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[Opinion] Profilers

Posted March. 25, 2008 03:27,   


The word “profile” originally meant a side view of a person’s face. Contrary to the popular belief that the front view of a face reveals details of the person’s characteristics, anatomists say the profile shows much more. That is why the term “profile” is used to describe a person’s characteristics. The term “profiler” refers to an expert who deduces the traits of a criminal or the motives of a crime based on psychology and behavioral science. Though a profiler is called a criminal investigation analyst by the FBI, the name profiler is more commonly used because of TV crime dramas and hit films such as “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Prosecutors used to torture suspects or did not let them sleep to obtain a confession. Such practices, however, have lost ground with the growing awareness of human rights and emphasis on evidence in rulings and legitimacy in the process of investigation. Crimes are now solved not only by investigators, but often with the help of state-of-art computer technology and professionals from a variety of areas, including genetic engineering, forensics, psychology and criminology. Nonetheless, many criminal cases cannot be solved even with the aid of scientific investigation when they are carefully premeditated by highly intelligent criminals or people with no clear motives or inexplicable logic.

Profilers played a pivotal role in discerning why a 39-year-old man in the southern Seoul suburb of Anyang last year kidnapped and murdered two schoolgirls, in addition to committing other crimes. The suspect, identified by his last name Jeong, repeatedly changed his testimony despite prosecutors finding out that he lied and discovering the blood of the two children in the trunk of a rental car he drove. Profilers said Jeong’s crimes were motivated by sexual desire. They convinced him to describe his life of alienation after his parents’ divorce and eventually made him confess. It was a feat of scientific investigation.

It is fortunate that police got their man. They must reflect, however, on their failure to conduct a proper investigation, such as early questioning of possible witnesses around the crime scene. Police also overlooked a report saying Jeong sexually harassed a woman and negligently checked his alibis as a mere formality. The lesson in this case is recognizing how important field investigation is no matter how scientific techniques improve in assisting criminal probes.

Editorial Writer Gwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)