How a Criminal Profiler Works - Interview with Pat Brown
In 1990, a young woman was strangled on a jogging path near the home of Pat Brown and her family. Brown suspected the young man who was renting a room in her house, and quickly uncovered strong evidence that pointed to him. But the police dismissed her as a housewife with an overactive imagination.
It would be six years before her former boarder would be brought in for questioning, but the night Brown took action to solve the murder was the beginning of her life's work. She is now one of the nation's few female criminal profilers -- a sleuth who assists police departments and victims' families by analyzing both physical and behavioral evidence to make the most scientific determination possible about who committed a crime.
The story of her journey to her career as a professional profiler is outlined in her hardcover, 'The Profiler: My Life Hunting Serial Killers and Psychopaths.' The book is one of the best on the subject of human darkness I have read (and I've read a lot of them, starting with 'Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders' by Vincent Bugliosi when I was surely too young for it, right up to Anne Rule's latest bestseller).
Not only is 'The Profiler' an empowering read for women especially, but it's inspirational for anyone who has strong career goals or is interested in radically changing their lives. I was lucky enough to snag an exclusive interview with Brown:
I found the story of how you became a do-it-yourself profiler fascinating. What's the one best piece of advice you can give to other women seeking to change their lives?
Pat Brown: Don't let the past define you nor the future frighten you. Human beings are incredibly capable of change and learning new tricks (even if you are an old dog). Don't let others tell you "you can't," because you can! But, there are two important things to remember when striking out on a new and unfamiliar road. You are going on a journey -- and like most journeys, you will encounter difficulties, surprises, delays, and frustrations. But along the way you will also have a grand adventure, meet fascinating people, and truly experience life. Second, think outside the box. If you are deciding to do something later in life, the traditional route is often not the best. Be creative!
People who watch TV shows like 'Criminal Minds' assume that one must be an FBI agent in order to be a profiler. But that's not the case -- there are other ways to get into profiling as profession. What are they?
There are few opportunities at the moment to work as a profiler except through the FBI and through a few state agencies (which require you to have been in law enforcement for a long time). There are a few independent profilers like myself who have fought to work in the field. It is my hope that I can change the concept of profilers to the point where we have profilers working with law enforcement in every jurisdiction as civilians and as part of local law enforcement.
You went about attaining your goal in a very nontraditional manner; what would you say to someone who is in high school or at college-age? Is there a better way to become a profiler?
The best way would be to take courses in criminal profiling that specifically train one in the techniques and methodologies. I have developed the first accredited certificate program in the country -- Criminal Profiling and Investigative Analysis at Excelsior -- to provide just this kind of education. I will also be developing my own online school to address the issue. And through the Society of Investigative Criminal Profiling I am working to develop standards for the field which will inspire programs across the country to include proper profiling education. Meanwhile, one must learn forensic pathology, psychopathology, crime reconstruction, criminal profiling methodology and methods of serial homicide investigation. It's tough to bring it all together but it can be done!
What are some qualities a profiler needs to possess, personality-wise? Profile a profiler for us!
Logic would be the No. 1 quality. If you haven't got logic, you simply will be putting the puzzle together incorrectly. I have seen some detectives and students put great effort into profiling a case but the results are completely off. You can learn techniques and methodologies but if you aren't logical, you still won't be able to do a very good job. Other than logic, an ability to not allow subjectivity to get the better of you is extremely important. Profiling needs to be applied scientifically; no guessing, assuming, or fabricating.
What is the typical workday of a profiler like? Give us two scenarios, please: one mundane, and one that's more active.
I am sitting at my desk or at a table in an interrogation room of a police department with no windows studying the photos and reading the police reports. Hours go by, days go by... finally, I put together my scenario and detail my conclusions in a report. I am totally intrigued by my work, and inside my head there are many films running of the murder scene, the possible suspect or suspects and the victim or victims.
As to a more active moment: I often do role-play to figure out what happened at the scene. This might be something as simple as smoking a cigarette slowly and then smoking it quickly to determine how long someone might have been standing in a particular spot. Or I might spend time in a vehicle testing how a person could be strangled in the front seat, trying to see if the evidence in the crime matches a small car or if it had to be a larger vehicle or a van. I also go out and about interviewing people and checking out crime scene locations to gather information to support my understanding of the crime and the culture in which it occurred.
What's the scariest case you ever handled? (The team of snipers seems to be the "scariest" as far as public panic -- were you scared, too?)
I remember the sniper time in Washington, D.C., and you kind of did move quickly and dance around at the gas pump so you wouldn't be a good target! But, I did not work the case myself; I was just one of the citizens experiencing the events, and I did almost round-the-clock commentary on the networks until the Muhammad and Malvo were caught. The scariest part of any case I have worked tends to be when I go places to interview people. Sometimes you can end up in a dangerous area without backup or in the residence of someone pretty squirrely. Other than this aspect of investigative criminal profiling ("investigative" meaning I go gather new information), most of profiling occurs in an office, so it is a relatively safe profession.
What's the strangest, most unusual of bizarre case you handled?
The last case in my book is a double homicide of a woman and the police chief who went to rescue her. This case shows how one shouldn't jump to conclusions or go with your gut at a scene. Sometimes things are not as they look: a half-naked, tied-up woman is not necessarily a sexual homicide. This case has remained officially open for the last two decades because the scenario provided by a profiler who worked the case in the early days of the investigation had his profile thrown out of court for lack of evidence to support the conclusions. This case really shows how you have to examine all the details and the behaviors to figure out what really happened at the scene -- what this killer wanted with the woman and why he shot down the police chief.
Do you find your gender to be of help, or a hindrance, in your line of work?
Definitely a hindrance. Law enforcement and criminal profiling are heavily male fields. There is a lot of resistance to a woman in the ranks; but I do see attitudes beginning to change.
Is it ever possible to turn the Profiler Pat switch off? I mean, when you go to Starbuck's for a brew, are you finding yourself analyzing the barista?
Oddly, I rarely profile people as I am out and about. I stick to good safety rules and I am happily amused by folks, including weirdos (well, I might say later, "What a psycho!" but I am not wasting my recreational time in a work mode).
What are some other careers that are similar to profiling as far as the rewards and excitement go?
Many professions actually use criminal profiling and crime analysis as part of their jobs, so one doesn't have to be a profiler to profile. Certainly all detectives, police and private, need to profile. Lawyers certainly have to analyze their cases. Psychiatrists could use profiling skills themselves to understand their own clients and fall for their manipulations. And any part of forensics from crime scene tech to medical examiner uses some aspects of profiling in analyzing wounds, the cause of death, and the evidence left at a crime scene.
And finally, a light-hearted question: In a world-class psych-out to end all psych-outs, who would win? Gil Grissom, Sherlock Holmes, or Jane Tennison?
I absolutely love the British 'Prime Suspect' series. It is a great police procedural and shows how cases drag on and how suspects are developed but hard to nail and how politics gets in the way. Jane Tennison is a great representative of a tenacious detective who follows up leads and is willing to stick her neck out to be sure she isn't overlooking persons of interest because they are not popular or because they are people others don't want to consider. Criminal profiling is not really shown in the series, at least in any depth. Actually, this is pretty realistic to the way things are done. Rarely is extensive time put into crime scene analysis in a way that could really help investigative direction. Analysis is often done on the fly as new evidence comes in. Detectives lack the time to sit down and spend long hours ruminating over every little detail.
Gil Grissom and 'CSI': Well, not my cup of tea. Profiling is supposedly done but it is so exaggerated and unbelievable to me that I simply can't watch the show without suffering from severe damage to my eyes from rolling them repeatedly. However, it is fun for people who don't profile for a living!
So, Sherlock wins. He is a true deductive criminal profiler. He is not doing the job of managing the investigation or doing the police detective's job. He is thoroughly analyzing evidence, as does a deductive criminal profiler of today. Of course, he is terribly brilliant and figures stuff out that regular profilers would likely not come up with -- but it helps to have Mr. Doyle plant the ability to analyze even the most obscure evidence in Holmes' head. Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle truly is the father of deductive criminal profiling in real life, and the character he developed, Sherlock Holmes, was his fictional counterpart. He is the real deal.
Pat Brown's book, 'The Profiler: My Life Hunting Serial Killers and Psychopaths' is out now.