Criminology involves the study of what causes crime and how society can respond to it. Forensic criminologists apply this research to individual criminal cases, by creating a psychological profile of the perpetrator, identifying possible motives or triggers, and evaluating suspects to determine if they match the overall psychological, demographic and other characteristics of the likely offender.
Forensic criminologists must scrutinize every aspect of the case before offering an official opinion to investigators. They might accomplish this primarily by studying the case files or by taking a more hands-on approach. In addition to reviewing crime scene photos, witness statements, forensic reports and other documentation, they might also visit crime scenes, interview witnesses, victims and suspects and observe autopsies and other proceedings. They might also examine individual pieces of evidence for an up-close look at wound patterns or other clues that can shed light on the nature of the crime and identity of the suspect.
Through a careful study of the evidence, forensic criminologists can sometimes create a general description of a potential suspect. Investigators use this information to narrow their search or exclude individuals. For example, the way someone commits a crime can indicate everything from his relationship to the victim to his motivations to any special skills or training he might have. Criminologists can also sometimes determine a likely age range, socio-economic status or even profession or ascertain that the suspect likely has a mental illness or recently endured a trauma that pushed him over the edge.
The work completed by forensic criminologists becomes an official part of the criminal case file. They must describe their findings in detailed written reports that spell out exactly how they arrived at their conclusions and include extensive explanation regarding the suspect profile. This documentation must be thorough and accurate, so that anyone reviewing the file, such as prosecutors or other investigators, can immediately understand its significance. Forensic criminologists sometimes testify in court, where they explain their profile to the jury.
Forensic criminologists must work closely with other members of the investigative team, which can include everyone from detectives to forensic scientists to prosecutors. They update police on their research and findings, so they can apply this information to their search for a suspect. They might also advise investigators on whether a suspect fits the psychological profile and how they can tailor their interrogation to increase the chances of obtaining useful information. Once the case goes to trial, they might also act as part of the prosecution’s team, offering expert opinion and guidance.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images