The Criminal Geographic Profile
The geographical profile can be defined as a technique for analyzing the spatial or geographical activity of criminals applied to criminal investigation (Garrido, 2006).

A technique that is providing police investigators and criminologists with a profile of the offender according to his mental map, to his geographical movements, whose final objective is to establish hypotheses about the criminal's domicile, anticipate his movements and his area of action.

Together with the psychological profile, an effective tool complements the rest of the police investigation. In this Transkerja.com article, we will talk about the Criminal Geographic Profile. Data from the research carried out in this area are also provided.

Introduction to the concept

The geographic profile is a complementary analysis technique or parallel to the psychological profile that lately is being developed enormously with the help of geographic information systems (GIS) that, as we will see later, are giving police investigators and criminologists an effective tool with which to work in certain investigations, in addition to serving as a support and information base to develop new theories and criminal policies.

We can define the geographic profile as a technique for analyzing the spatial or geographical activity of criminals applied to criminal investigation. (Garrido, 2006). As a complement to the psychological profile, it does not take care of what the criminal is like, but rather seeks to respond to where the criminal acts, to know how he moves, what are his movements and areas of action. The final objective for the investigation would be to be able to provide the geographic location of the criminal's residence, in addition to offering hypotheses about future areas of action.

Generally, this technique, although as we will see later, has other applications, it is often used in the investigation of serious crimes in which the police do not have clues or forensic evidence that can guide the investigation. In these cases, having a geographic profile can reduce the number of suspects to a specific area, generating a number of them easier to handle by agents, in addition to centraling police resources in those areas where it is more likely that The offender acts or resides. Like the psychological profile, the geographic has limitations and always speaks of probabilities, does not solve the cases by itself, but is an investigative tool that can help the police.

In this sense, the geographical profile is not developed apart from the investigation, but is based on an exhaustive study of everything that is known about the case through the victims, forensic evidence and crime scenes, giving special attention to geographical factors. Such as the type of crime scene, characteristics of the area, access and exit routes, etc.

Cognitive map.

Among the theoretical basis of the geographic profile, is the idea of cognitive map or mental scheme, which Bell, Fisher, Baum and Green (1996) define as a very personal representation of the family environment that we experience, that is, a representation of our Personal way of understanding the environment.

This cognitive scheme allows us to acquire, encode, store, remember and manipulate information about our environment. (Downs and Stea, 1973). Among the functions of the cognitive maps are to provide an environmental reference framework to move around our environment, the person who is not able to relate the place where he is with his context is lost, is therefore a device to generate decisions about actions of displacement through our environment, contributing also to generate a feeling of emotional security (Aragonés, 1998).

The mental map is therefore a scheme as a map or plane that the subject has been developing with experience with their environment and that allows them to develop and move through their territory. We all have a mental map of the area in which we reside, of the city and in general of the entire territory through which we move throughout our lives.

On the issue at hand, criminals use their mental map to go to certain places, choose certain areas, access and flee through certain routes, in short, the relationship established by the criminal with his environment to commit his acts is conditioned by his cognitive map

The importance of knowing this mental map lies in the possibility of being able to determine with your analysis the starting point of your displacements, a place that is usually your home, although it may also be your place of work or other previous address. This is what is usually called the anchor point and will be developed later.

The geographical knowledge that makes up the mental map as we have seen above is a personal and personal representation of the person, different people may have a different mental map even if they live in the same area, since they start from personal interpretations and the particular experience that each person has the area where he lives and the places where he lives. The criminal therefore consults and uses his cognitive map to analyze what he can do in certain areas, how he can get to and from there, what kind of victims and obstacles can be found, what places are more comfortable and familiar to him to move, where feel safe...

As Garrido (2007) states, many serial killers follow a definite logic when deciding where they commit their crimes, following a cost-benefit logic: when we invest a significant effort in something, the place we choose to make that investment has to minimize costs in relation to the benefits that are intended to be obtained. It is possible to think then that the murderers move to places where they believe they can find more vulnerable victims, where they can be surer that they will not be surprised or can escape easily.

It is therefore, an objective of the geographical profile, to get a copy of that criminal's mental map and be able to understand and use it as he would to detect upcoming areas of action and narrow down as much as possible the base of operations from which it begins His crimes.

Environmental Criminology.

Environmental criminology (Branting ham, 1981) is dedicated to studying criminal events because of the relationship between potential offenders and potential criminal targets that occur at specific points in space and time.

Environmental criminology will therefore be used to analyze how crime occurs in specific places and times, giving great importance to the principle of proximity, which postulates that criminals generally act near their home.

Along with this principle is that of rational choice, which suggests that the offender establishes a cost-benefit analysis, in which he weighs the criminal gain and the probability of being discovered.

Generally this type of "planning" or "analysis" that the offender performs, occur within a family geographical scoper for this, take place primarily within the scope of routine activities (Cohen and Felson, 1979), which indicates that they need to be present three factors for the crime to occur: a person motivated to commit the crime, an objective that attracts him and with low cost and lack of vigilance or insufficient surveillance to deter him. If any of these factors is not present, the crime will not be committed.

Hypothesis of the circle.

David Canter, professor of psychology at the University of Liverpool, is one of those who has most developed the technique of geographical profile, collaborating with the police in the development of psychological and geographical profiles.

The approach of Canter and his collaborators is because the crime sites are related to the domicile of the criminal or to an important place for him, which can be considered his base of operations. Canter found that between 50% and 75% of violators in his study lived in an area that could be defined by a circle whose diameter joined the two furthest places where he had attacked, what he called the circle hypothesis (Garrido 2006).

In their study of 45 cases of sex offenders, 39 of them had their domicile within the circle that drew their two farthest crimes. In these cases, the criminal leaves from his home, constituting this point the center from which he moves radially to the places where he will commit his crimes, once committed they return to the security of their home. He called this type of aggressors "marauders."

The distance between the places of the events was proportionally related to the domicile of the aggressor, so that places far apart from each other were also farther from the domicile of the aggressor than those places of the events that were closest to each other.

The rest of the aggressors who did not live within the circle were called commuter or travelers, aggressors who travel from their home to an area where they will commit their crimes. (Canter, 2005).

Canter along with Maurice Godwin, which we will talk about later, came to the conclusion after a study of serial killers, that in the realization of the geographical profile not only must take into account the crime scene where the victim is found, but It is very important to know the place where the aggressor and victim come into contact, since this is the place that most relates to the victim's address. For this, it is necessary to know the steps of the victim, know where he was last seen, how and why he got there, etc.

Canter makes other contributions to the development of the psychological profile, such as those that analyze the interaction between aggression and victim, giving rise to his well-known model of the five factors, which the interested reader can find in the bibliography.

Principle of decay with distance.

Kim Rossmo, police inspector and currently an advisor to security forces and bodies in several countries, raises the principle of decay with distance. After a mathematical analysis of many cases, it shows how as the displacements to commit crimes increase, the frequency of these crimes decreases. This is related to the preference for committing crimes in the vicinity of the home and for the greater probability of choosing objectives that involve less environmental modification (Branting ham and Branting ham, 1984). However, Rossmo argues that there is also a security or comfort zone near his home where the criminal does not commit his crimes, since it is an area where he can be recognized by the victims and / or by witnesses.

It is important to understand that the distance in these mind maps is an individual perception and depends a lot on the geographical experiences of the person. That is, what for one person can be a long distance, for another it may not be, since it has a different perception of remoteness? For a person accustomed to traveling, driving 100 km with the car can be a short distance, but for another it can be considered as a long journey. In relation to this, the statistical results of several studies suggest that the grouping of crimes close to each other correlates more with the proximity of the offender's home, than those crimes that occur geographically more isolated. These data are of great value for the investigation of serial crimes.

Rossmo also establishes a criminal category based on the type of victims chosen in relation to their geographical movements:

  • Hunter (Hunter): looks for his victims in the surroundings of where he lives.
  • Poacher: acts in a specific area that is different from where you live.
  • Fisherman (Troller): acts in his area of routine activity, where he works, where he has fun ... looking for the victim and timely situation.
  • Trapper (Trapper): uses tricks and situations to take the victim to their anchor point, and that is where he commits the crime. (Rossmo, 1995).
  • When making the geographical profile, Rossmo makes an exhaustive study of the possible routes that the offender has followed to commit the crimes, trying to draw conclusions regarding the peculiarities of mobility of that subject, if using short or long distances, if travel on national roads or just move around the city, etc. The mobility characteristics are developed and can sometimes change following the chronological order of the crimes, in such a way that by gaining confidence with the criminal experience, the criminal will expand his range of action, being able to also modify his modus operandi and making If in your first crimes you were walking, then gain confidence and risk traveling further by car.

In relation to this, a criminal can start being from one category and then move on to another. It is important to consider these possible changes by making a chronological analysis of their crimes and detecting changes in patterns.

Rossmo raises a series of questions that must be answered when making a geographical profile:

  • Why choose that victim in that particular place.
  • Why choose that area.
  • How did it get there?
  • The route followed which features it has: it is easy, known, peculiar...
  • What has been able to attract him from that place, what relationship he can have with him?
  • In case of serial crimes, what would be the geographical patterns?
  • How to get out of that place and what characteristics does that escape route have?
  • It is an appropriate place for such behaviors.
  • There are indications that the victim has been taken there from another place or was approached there.

What kind of transportation you may have used.


Some studies of criminal geographic behavior.

As in the psychological one, the geographic profile also has inductive methods in which solved cases are analyzed to extract patterns of geographic behavior from criminals and thus provide theories and hypotheses for deductive methodology. This methodology, in a broader vision and use, can be used to describe the geographic distribution of crime in a given area. Seeing in which areas the different types of crime are distributed and concentrated and how these criminals behave at the geographical level can help not only to establish more effective police measures but also to develop more adjusted, specific and optimal criminal policies.

From the point of view of criminology, it is intended to make further progress in the study of the offender, not focusing as before on personality characteristics, intellectual or educational deficiencies, but attending to situational factors such as the physical environment and geographic behavior of criminals (Stangeland and Garrido, 2004).

We have already commented on some studies carried out such as those of Canter, Godwin and Rossmo, which have given rise to important theoretical bases in the realization of geographical profiles, such as the Canter circle hypothesis, the development of Rossmo's security zone and a series of behavioral guidelines at the geographical level that have been validated in numerous investigations.

Anne Davies and Andrew Dale conduct a study in 1995 in which 299 cases already solved and 79 rapists are analyzed, some of them serial rapists. The results allowed us to conclude that almost all serial violators had perpetrated their crimes in the vicinity of their anchor points and that they did not progressively extend the distance between their domicile and the place of crime, but instead engaged in acting within a limited area. This study also confirmed the hypothesis that older rapists travel farther to commit their crimes than younger ones, who act very close to their homes. (Excerpted from the study of the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation, 2004).

Robert Keppel, homicide investigator and associate professor at Sam Houston University has conducted several investigations in cases of missing and subsequently killed children. Among some of his results, he obtained that more than half of the aggressors resided less than 400 meters from the place of contact with the victim and that in two out of three cases, the presence of the aggressor in that place was justified because in it he performed some type of daily activity. (Excerpted from the study of the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation, 2004).

James L. LeBeau studied 320 cases of violations in the US, of which 156 cases were isolated crimes and the rest were serial violations by 39 rapists. The results confirm the hypothesis that violators act regionally very close to their anchor point, moreover, compared to what it might seem, serial violators are those who make shorter journeys between their anchor point and the area of Contact with his victim. All rapists had an anchor point at an approximate distance of 4 km. regarding the place of contact with his victim. (Excerpted from the study of the German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation, 2004).

In 2004, the Federal Criminal Investigation Office of Germany carried out an extensive study on geographical behavior distinguishing between the crime of rape and the crime of sexual homicide. Due to the large number of cases studied, 348 rapes and 170 sexual homicides, the results are statistically very relevant. These are some of the results:

In 30% of the crimes in this study, the anchor point and the place of contact with the victim was less than 1 km away. Away, and in more than 85% of them about 20 km. These short distances are explained because the acts are committed during the performance of daily routines by the offender. In this regard, 35% of the violations and 49% of the killings occurred in more than one place, that is, the place of contact was not considered appropriate by the offender and moved his victims to another place where it consummated the crime.

When analyzing the violations distinguishing between those that are acts planned by the offender and those that are spontaneous acts, they discovered that the offenders who planned their violations tended to travel longer distances from their anchor point, creating a safety zone around the area Anchor. However, in both groups the distance between the anchor point and the contact point did not exceed 20 km. in almost 80% of cases. In the case of homicides, these differences could not be verified.

The same trend is shown if we compare violations belonging to serial rapists with isolated violations. Serial rapists, like those who plan, tend to travel more distances.

Although without great statistical significance, they found that violators over 30 years traveled longer distances than those under 29, being much more significant in the case of those under 18, in which 85% acted in an area of 5 km regarding its anchor point. In the case of homicides, these differences could not be verified either

If the victim of rape were children, in 92% of the cases the crime took place within a radius of less than 15 km from the place of contact. This can be explained because children are victims who are only available during the day, which increases the risk of being discovered. This risk can be reduced if the offender acts in an area that gives him security and where he can better control the risks and go unnoticed, as it is part of his daily activity and will not be seen as a stranger. Although in the case of homicides this trend is not clearly perceived, the results suggest that 45% of victims under 13 years of age, the distance between anchor point and contact point was 1 km compared to only the 25% when they were over 13 years old.

In this study it was also demonstrated how it was more optimal, to locate the anchor point of the aggressor, to take the place of contact with the victim than the place where he is in the body (BKA, 2004).

The data of this investigation are consistent with those obtained by the FBI in the analysis of 108 cases of violations in which, the author's domicile was less than a kilometer in almost 50% of the cases (in Stangeland and Garrido, 2004).

Canter and Gregory review in 1994 a database of 45 serial rapists from England, distinguishing between rapists over 25 and under 25. The results show that in 54% of the aggressors under 25 years of age lived 800 meters from the first aggression against 38% of those over 25 years (in Stangeland and Garrido, 2004).

Profile methodology.

As we mentioned earlier, the realization of the geographical profile cannot be separated from the rest of the investigation tools: eye inspection, crime scene, forensic data, police investigations, psychological profile ... Therefore, the profile should always be open to introduction of new data, which makes it constantly changing and evolving. This is not only a negative characteristic, but it is an advantage that must be taken into account, since the introduction of new information optimizes and improves the results of the profile.

There is no structured and consensual methodology for the realization of geographic profiles as in the case of psychological profiles. In the section we will try to design a basic methodology based on the information provided by some authors who are dedicated to the realization of profiles, specifically we will build on the works of Canter, Rossmo and Godwin. These authors have evolved their methodology to the creation of specific software’s for the realization of profiles, since the data needs to be manipulated through databases and statistical packages and integrated into geographic information systems (GIS), for which it is useful and computer support is essential. We will talk about these software’s and GIS in a later section.

Regarding the basic methodology, the first case consists in the collection of data regarding the case. In the sense we have to analyze all the information that can reach us, (some authors even visit the scenes of the crimes that have occurred). It is necessary to make a retrospective analysis of similar cases that occurred in the area to relate the cases that may be part of a series. As we have seen before, the geographic behavior of criminals has a temporary evolution, so we must know as much as possible the entire criminal acts that our offender may have committed both temporally and spatially, as well as data of these investigations.

Some investigators, especially the FBI, use the VICAP database (abbreviation for violent criminal detention program). This computerized database stores, manages and relates crimes based mainly on the criminal modus operandi data and establishing a series of statistical and comparative analyzes with other crimes. The security forces and bodies can access, consult and introduce new crimes to this database, which is a database in continuous growth.

However, Godwin advises against the use of VICAP since, as he argues, this database is based on the temporary stability of the modus operandi used by the criminal, without taking into account the possible modifications or changing patterns that the criminal can make at the time of commit their crimes over time or by the specific circumstances of a particular crime. According to Godwin, criminals do not always do the same in crimes and even what in criminology is called the signature (another criterion for relating crimes), can be modified, interrupted or hidden in some crimes.

Godwin uses a statistical analysis of certain features presented in the crime scene for the relationship of cases (use of ties, blunt objects, naked victim ...). These traits are compared between different crimes within a matrix and the analysis assigns a percentage to the relationship between each two crimes. For Godwin, crimes that have more than 30% relationship between the events that occurred at the scene of the crime would indicate crimes that are linked to each other and therefore appear to be acts committed by the same person. (Godwin, 2006).

Once all the information about the crimes has been collected, we must give answers to the questions that Rossmo posed previously, taking into account the geographical characteristics of the crimes and the different crime scenes, as well as all the data that can facilitate the subsequent creation of hypothesis. We may have to conduct some research or gather some information on the ground that has not been documented by the research team, such as distance measurement, time measurement between certain events, evaluation of access and exit roads, nearby roads, geography of the land, existence of public transportation, integration of the scene with the rest of the neighborhood, city...

With all this information, we must begin to carry out a chronological analysis of the crimes and to establish guidelines, modus operandi and working hypothesis, always being receptive and attentive to the new information that may come to us.

Next, what is usually done is to indicate on a map the places where the crimes have occurred, taking into account the different scenes of the crimes that may exist, as well as the places where the victim-aggressor comes into contact. For most authors it is not enough to use only the place where the victim is found, it should also be taken into account if they are different, of course, the place of contact, place of aggression, place of rape or sexual offense and place of homicide

Currently, this task is usually performed using geographic information systems (GIS) with which an event density calculation is subsequently performed, indicating the areas where there is less and more concentration of events. From here, we can establish hypotheses using the theories and results offered by the studies of geographic behavior of criminals, trying to point out possible anchor points, safety zone, possible future areas of action...

The geographic profile should not be pretentious, since it is not possible to provide the exact address where the criminal lives, you must contribute to the investigation to the extent of the data and results you handle. As we mentioned earlier, it has the function of helping to optimally manage the always limited resources of the investigation, pointing out to the agents where the criminal is most likely to move and therefore where it is advisable to search and where not.

In the face of a massive investigation of possible suspects, you can help reduce this number by indicating how many of those potential suspects have anchor points in the predicted area. This greatly facilitates the investigation, reduces resources and collaborates with the rapid resolution of the case (with the advantages that this entails, especially in cases of murder).

It is necessary to point out that the anchor point does not always refer to the domicile of the criminal, sometimes it is an old domicile, the workplace, the domicile of his girlfriend. etc., therefore we must collect all this information from the suspects that appear. In order to manage and work with all this information, it is necessary to use computerized databases.

Although this technique has generally been used and developed in cases of serial killings, the methodology and technique can also be useful in investigations of serial sex offenders, serial robberies, fires, kidnappings, disappearances...

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Software for the creation of geographic profiles.
A GIS is a system of hardware, software and procedures designed to support the capture, administration, manipulation, analysis, modeling and graphing of data or spatially referenced objects that allows us to analyze the information provided in order to plan and make decisions (Carmona and Monsalve, 2002).

In general, a GIS should have the ability to answer the following questions:
  • Where is object A?
  • Where is A relative to B?
  • How many occurrences of type A are there in a distance D from B?
  • What is the value of the Z function in the X position?
  • What is the dimension of B (Frequency, perimeter, area, volume)?
  • What is the result of the intersection of different types of information?
  • What is the shortest path (least resistance or least cost) on the ground from a point (X1, Y1) along a corridor P to a point (X2, Y2)?
  • What is in the point (X, Y)?
  • What objects are close to those objects that have a combination of features?
  • What is the result of classifying the following sets of spatial information?
Using the defined real-world model, simulate the effect of the P process at a time T given an S scenario.

The GIS works with geographic and database data, linking them together and creating a geographic database. The main issues that a Geographic Information System can solve are:
  • Location: ask for the characteristics of a specific place.
  • Condition: compliance or not with conditions imposed on the system.
  • Trend: comparison between temporal or spatial situations other than some characteristic.
  • Routes: calculation of optimal routes between two or more points.
  • Guidelines: detection of spatial patterns.
  • Models: generation of models based on simulated phenomena or actions.
These GIS are currently used in various fields ranging from archeology, agriculture, marketing to criminology; any study involving the geographical factor is likely to be addressed by this system.

As we have seen before, some researchers specialized in geographic profiles have developed this technique until they have created specific software for creating profiles.

At the University of Liverpool, the Canter team developed DRAGNET, which starts from the data of the crime sites, from here, analyzing them together with the various data provided by the investigation and by the behavior patterns acquired by their studies inductive It also allows working with measured distances in Manhattan metric instead of using the standard Euclidean, which gives greater realism to the analysis of displacements and distances.

Kim Rossmo's team developed RIGEL, marketed as Environmental Criminology Research International (ACRI). This software supports a wide variety of geographic information systems and databases that can be customized to suit the client. Part of a linking system like VICAP and uses the patented algorithm ECRI based on Java. The information may include crime scenes, information of the suspects, details of the case and the investigator ... Present the results on two or three-dimensional maps called jeopardies, showing the most likely place of residence of a criminal. It is currently used by police in many countries and has been used in hundreds of cases around the world.

Godwin developed the PREDATOR software, which starts from a statistical analysis for the linking of serial cases (as we have seen previously, rejects the VICAP method) to later introduce the coordinates of the place of contact and the crime scene where the body is located. The longitude and latitude coordinates are converted to the UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) grid, which are used to express the unique location of crime-related data. The software uses a color system to show on the map the analysis of dispersions, event concentrations and the most likely area of anchoring of the offender.

Ned Levine developed the CRIMESTAT, with the grant of the US National Institute of Justice, a program of spatial statistics that is not used specifically for the realization of geographical profiles, but for the geographic study of crime. The Crime Stat has a primary file with the location of the crimes and dates, and a secondary file that is associated with the primary for cluster development. The system offers information on spatial distribution of crimes, distance analysis, hot spot analysis and spatial modeling. US police departments (Martinez ET ales. 2004) use it extensively.