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Research in Brief: An Evidence-Based Offender Profile for Burglary

By Bryanna Hahn Fox, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of South Florida; David P. Farrington, PhD, Emeritus Professor, University of Cambridge; and Michael Chitwood, Chief of Police, Daytona Beach, Florida, Police Department


The IACP Research Advisory Committee is proud to offer the monthly “Research in Brief” column. This column features evidence-based research summaries that highlight actionable recommendations for Police Chief magazine readers to consider within their own agencies. The goal of the column is to feature research that is innovative, credible, and relevant to a diverse law enforcement audience.



Note: The word “profiling” has a great deal of negative connotations, particularly surrounding illegal racial profiling by law enforcement. However, legitimate profiling activities by the police to interdict crimes and identify offenders continue to be highly appropriate actions. This article addresses a positive and innovative example of such police activity.
Members and supporters of law enforcement often look forward to new advances in crime-solving techniques that may improve the process of identifying and apprehending offenders for the most difficult and prolific crimes. While many new techniques, including mtDNA analysis, advanced facial recognition software, and geographic profiling have aided in clearing many otherwise unsolvable cases, these methods have had very little impact on the incidence and clearance rate for burglary.1 As burglary is currently the most common, yet most unsolved crime in the United States with just 13 percent of all burglaries solved nationwide, a new tool is clearly needed to help investigators solve this problematic offense.

Although forensic evidence and crime-scene intelligence required by the currently available policing techniques are rarely found at burglaries, it was assumed that any technique created to help solve these crimes should rely only on information readily available at burglary crime scenes. Before this research began, the only known policing tool that required solely behavioral information from a crime scene to generate a suspect pool was the fabled technique of “offender profiling.” However at that point, profiles had been created only by the FBI for serial murder, rape, and arson. No profile had ever been created for a volume crime such as burglary.

The underlying principle behind offender profiling is that all crime scenes reflect an offender’s traits and personality “in much the same way as furnishings reveal the homeowner’s character”; therefore, the author felt that all crimes generally reflect the traits of the criminals who commit them, and if the offense-offender link can be identified, a profile could be created for any crime, including burglary.2


Creating a Burglary Profile

In 2008, the author joined forces with world-renowned criminologist David Farrington and the forward-thinking Daytona Beach Police Department to begin the Evidence-Based Offender Profiling Project. The goal was to integrate knowledge, experience, methods, and data to develop the first statistically generated and tested profile of burglary within the United States. After analyzing data on more than 400 randomly selected burglaries and the responsible offenders, it was determined that four offense styles and offender types exist. Specifically, the four burglary offense styles were labeled as (1) organized, (2) disorganized, (3) opportunistic, and (4) interpersonal offenses. Each of the offense styles are distinctive in how they appear at the crime scene, and each is committed by burglars with unique sets of traits and criminal histories. Also, in each case, the features of the criminal generally reflect the features of the crime.3


Testing the Profiles

The second goal of the research was to test the accuracy of the burglary profiles in actual police investigations—the first scientific experiment conducted on profiling. This involved the cooperation of several major police departments in Florida, which were matched on several key criteria such as crime rate, location, population, and number of sworn officers. One department was selected to receive training on the profiles and how to implement them in its burglary investigations, while the remaining police departments served as control groups without any use or knowledge of the burglary profiles.

Results showed that six months after implementing the burglary profiles, the department using the profiles had a significant increase in burglary arrests, as compared to the police departments not using the profiles, despite having nearly identical arrest rates at the start of the experiment. Specifically, the agency using the profiles cleared nearly four times as many burglaries as the departments that did not use the burglary profiles. Additionally, when the profile was used, the odds of a burglary case resulting in arrest more than tripled, compared to other cases in the control groups during the same time frame. Together, these results show that the burglary profiles have a positive impact on the ability to solve cases, and the impact is quite substantial. See Figure 1 for a diagram of the experiment’s results.


Law Enforcement Savings

At a time when many agencies are forced to make considerable cuts in their budgets without compromising their ability to prevent and solve crimes, a major benefit of these profiles becomes apparent. If the profiles are accurate and have little or no cost to a police department, this effective and cost-efficient new tool may be an answer to the problem. In fact, the profiles may save a great deal of money for both law enforcement and society. They could help reduce the large proportion of burglaries that normally go unsolved, and the enormous costs associated with those offenses.

As the cost to investigate a single burglary has been estimated at nearly $7,000 per offense, the potential savings if all U.S. law enforcement agencies use these profiles may be as much as $5.8 billion per year. For a medium-sized police department such as Daytona Beach, Florida, which investigates approximately 1,800 burglaries per year, this translates to over $6.3 million in direct savings for the department and $20 million in savings to the community every year. As the profiles cost only a fraction of that amount to implement, it is clear how these profiles may benefit police departments, regardless of whether they are facing budget cuts or not.


Future Research

This study aimed to develop a new and effective tool for law enforcement to address the problematic crime of burglary. After developing evidence-based burglary profiles and examining their effectiveness on arrest rates in the first experimental test of profiling, it was discovered that use of the burglary profiles increased arrest rates by 400 percent. As these profiles were tested in the field, and in a scientific manner, the results can likely be generalized to other real-world settings as well.

It is important to note that the profiles for this experiment were developed using a sample of burglaries from central Florida, and the exact behaviors may differ for burglaries committed in other parts of the United States. Additional research on burglary with more law enforcement agencies is needed to examine how burglaries may differ across the United States and other countries.

Also, a randomized experiment would be useful to establish true causality between profiling and arrest rates and examine how, and in what types of cases, profiles lead to the arrest of an offender. Such research would shed more light on the accuracy of the profiles and indicate how to improve the profiles to better serve police and solve open cases. The researchers strongly encourage collaborations between law enforcement and academics to perform research such as this in the future.

In short, this research lays a stepping stone on the path to advancing and growing the technique of offender profiling and applying this promising tool to one of the most prolific and difficult-to-solve crimes. ♦


Notes:
1Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States, 2011 (Washington, DC: 2011), http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011 (accessed January 14, 2014).
2John E. Douglas, Ann W. Burgess, Allen G. Burgess, and Robert K. Ressler, Crime Classification Manual (New York, NY: Lexington Books, 1992).
3For more information or training on these offense styles, the burglars who commit them, or how to use these profiles in investigations, please contact Dr. Bryanna Fox, or see Bryanna H. Fox and David P. Farrington, “Creating Burglary Profiles Using Latent Class Analysis: A New Approach to Offender Profiling,” Criminal Justice and Behavior 39, no. 12 (December 2012): 1582–1611.

Please cite as:

Bryanna Hahn Fox, David P. Farrington, and Michael Chitwood, “An Evidence-Based Offender Profile for Burglary,” Research in Brief, The Police Chief 81 (February 2014): 14–15.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXXI, no. 2, February 2014. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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