WHY THE SNIPER PROFILERS WERE WRONG
Nov 11, 2002 22:33 PST
WHY THE SNIPER PROFILERS WERE WRONG
James Roger Brown
As demonstrated by the sample bibliography following this article, a
substantial number of reporters and political analysts did detect that
media and police profilers were wrong on what we now know to be the
Washington Snipers profiles and actually impeded the investigation with
false leads through their respective profiles. Comparing the
consequences for profilers providing false leads to law enforcement with
the consequences for a regular citizen providing false leads to law
enforcement is informative. The citizen who provided the false
eyewitness account of seeing a sniper fire and flee in a white van was
arrested and criminally charged. There have been no reports that any of
the profilers have been arrested, criminally charged, or even fired from
their positions or contracts for impeding the investigation with their
The lack of adverse consequences for psychobabble profiler experts being
wrong is one of the reasons they continue to rely on the junk science
that produced their erroneous advice to police this time. Their
profound and abiding science fraud continues unimpeded, despite the fact
that it cost people their lives.
One looks back with some envy to the Romans who had specific punishments
for just about every incompetence and outrage. There was probably
something in their inventory appropriate for profiler incompetence, but
little chance it could be applied even if identified. However, the
prospect of experiencing personal pain for their blundering might get
the attention of at least some of these stone headed behavioral
scientist quacks. Unfortunately, these people are never likely to
suffer any adverse consequences beyond the pricking of their own
conscience, if it exists.
Alas, I digress.
Notably absent from these articles are any explanations of WHY these
alleged geniuses were unable to provide useful information to law
enforcement agencies attempting to apprehend the Washington Snipers.
One component of the explanation is found in how behavioral scientists
construct their master list of serial killer “characteristics.” They
study failed serial killers who have been caught by law enforcement.
There are successful serial killers, probably smarter than most law
enforcement, that are still at large. From this biased sample of failed
serial killers, profilers construct statistical probabilities that are
presumed to be representative of the characteristics of future serial
(One of the more bizarre law enforcement reactions to serial crimes has
to do with the stable number of people who disappear without a trace
annually for which there is no association with drugs, crime, life
disaffection, or any discernable reason for the person to vanish. Law
enforcement officers who begin investigating this pattern are ordered to
stop. There is no state or national database for these special cases
and no geographical mapping of these cases. No one has a clue as to the
explanation for this category of disappearances.)
Among the problems associated with making predictions from statistical
1. Statistical associations do not establish a causal relationship
between a characteristic and becoming a serial killer (causal
relationships are essential for predictability);
2. The profile characteristics lists constructed in this manner are
flawed by the hasty generalization logical fallacy (conclusions reached
with unrepresentative or insufficient facts);
3. There is no theoretical foundation; and
4. There is no logical foundation.
Probability-based statements are merely sophisticated guesses. Such
guesses are only valid where the characteristics exist. Where the
characteristics do not exist, the serial killer can never “fit” any of
the resulting guesses. As demonstrate with the Washington Snipers, the
absence of a logical foundation can be devastating and deadly. In the
absence of a logical foundation, using reason to ascertain alternate
solutions cannot occur.
For comparison, a brief example of working with a logical foundation can
be stated using the known escape tactics available to snipers. Escape
tactics fall into three basic categories: (1) concealment; (2)
deception; and (3) diversion. Concealment involves some means of hiding
in position until the search force gives up and leaves the area, then
departing when it is safe to do so. Deception involves creating
circumstances under which people in the immediate vicinity perceive the
sniper to be something other than what he is, typically utilizing some
element of disguise. Diversion involves creating some distraction which
draws attention away from the sniper’s position, allowing an undetected
If law enforcement agencies had used a logical foundation such as this
to consider how the snipers might have been able to escape repeatedly
instead of being distracted by the probability-based musings of
profilers, they might have made progress sooner.
This is not a case of Monday night quarter-backing. Any decent sniper
course manual would address escape and evasion. The value of this
logical foundation is demonstrated by the fact that, when finally
captured, the vehicle used had been modified so the sniper fired from
concealment in the trunk and the driver could leave immediately after
the shot. Another important fact that would have emerged from
referencing a sniper manual is that competent urban operations require a
two to five-man team, the sniper, one direct support person, and
sometimes additional persons for diversion or blocking of pursuit.
SAMPLE BIBLIOGRAPHY OF ARTICLES NOTING SNIPER PROFILING ERRORS AND
WEBSITE ON SERIAL KILLER CHARACTERISTICS
1. Buchanan, Pat. “The Beltway Sniper and the Media.” The Washington
Dispatch, Oct 30, 2002.
2. Chronis, Peter G. “Prejudiced profilers had sniper figured all
wrong.” Denver Post, October 29, 2002.
3. Erwin, Diana Griego. “Sniper shootings random? 'He's hunting
humans,' says profiler.” The Sacramento Bee, October 10, 2002.
4. Farhi, Paul and Weeks, Linton. “A Surprise Ending With the Sniper,
TV Profilers Missed Their Mark. Washington Post, October 25, 2002, Page
5. Kane, Eugene. “Sniper case shows flaws of racial profiling.” JS
Online, October 26, 2002.
6. Lehrer, Eli. “Profiles in Confusion: It might be entertaining, but
profiling doesn't solve crimes.” Weekly Standard, 11/04/2002, Volume
008, Issue 08.
7. Staff. “Cool killer has profilers guessing.” Sydney Morning Herald,
October 9, 2002.
8. Website on the “characteristics” of serial killers.
© Copyright November 11, 2002 by James Roger Brown. All rights