how to become a criminal behavioral analyst


Criminal behavioral analysts, also referred to as criminal investigative analysts or criminal profilers, play a major role in solving crimes and upholding justice. They are integral members of the criminal justice system and indispensable resources to law enforcement organizations.


What Does a Criminal Behavioral Analyst Do?

Criminal behavioral analysts study the inner workings of criminals’ minds and work with detectives to shine a light on lawbreakers’ motives. They use investigation techniques rooted in forensic psychology to evaluate human behavior and offenders’ thought processes.

Criminal profilers also interpret crime scene evidence to understand how and why criminals make the choices they do. These trained professionals apply thoughtful analyses to help define the probable characteristics, intentions, and psychological makeup of transgressors.


Collaborate with Law Enforcement Agencies

Criminal behavioral analysts help guide law enforcement organizations through the investigative process. Their contributions are pivotal for naming potential suspects.

They offer guidance on the most effective ways to pursue the investigation based on their understanding of criminal psychology. They may suggest specific areas to focus on, types of evidence to prioritize, or particular lines of questioning that could be fruitful during suspect interviews.

"Collaboration with criminal profilers is essential for criminal investigators. Criminal investigations are often complex and criminal profilers can assist by providing insight into the modus operandi and personal characteristics of a suspect."
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member

Interpret Crime Scene Evidence

When studying evidence of a crime, criminal behavioral analysts will pore over every detail, like the location, time of day, and nature of the victim. They apply forensic science, adding context to each fingerprint, footprint, and DNA sample. This process, known as criminal investigative analysis, enables them to interpret the violence used, the organization or disorganization of the crime scene, and any symbols or messages left behind.

Criminal profilers inspect clues to pinpoint an offender's methods, patterns, and even thought processes.

Beyond matching samples to individuals, analysts can deduce aspects of the criminal's lifestyle or habits, potentially indicating drug use, medical conditions, or other personal characteristics that might inform their psychological profile.


Identify Criminal Behavior Patterns

A good criminal profiler is adept at identifying trends among criminal minds. This work is done by closely examining data from similar cases, both open and closed. 

Criminal behavior analysts study convicted criminals, searching for traits – such as age range, gender, level of education, field of employment, and even psychological state – shared by those who’ve committed similar types of crimes. This information is used to create criminal profiles. Investigators use these profiles to help identify potential suspects in open cases.


Determine What Motivates Criminal Minds

When a crime is committed, police departments are tasked with figuring out how it happened. At the same time, criminal profilers work to uncover the why.

Combining an established criminal profile with behavioral science makes it possible to explain why individuals break the law. In a sense, criminal behavioral analysts bridge the gap between psychology and law enforcement.


Define and Develop Criminal Typologies

The U.S. Department of Justice describes criminal typologies as offering “a means of developing general summary statements concerning observed facts about a particular class of criminals who are sufficiently homogeneous to be treated as a type, rather than attempting to study criminals as a single species.”

Criminal behavioral analysts are a key component in establishing different criminal typologies. They study and categorize criminals based on the perpetrators’ modus operandi, motives, and psychological characteristics. These details provide law enforcement organizations with valuable guidance on how to approach investigations and narrow down lists of potential suspects.

The justice system as we know it today couldn’t exist without criminal behavioral analysts.


How to Become a Criminal Profiler: Educational Requirements

Becoming a criminal behavioral analyst or criminal profiler involves a combination of education beyond a high school diploma, training, and practical experience. There are several steps typically involved in pursuing this career path.


1. Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in a Relevant Field

Common fields of study include criminal justice, psychology, sociology, or forensic science. A bachelor’s degree provides a broad foundation regarding how criminals behave, as well as the criminal justice system, crime scene analysis, and basic forensic principles.


2. Pursue an Advanced Education

Consider obtaining a master's degree or even a doctoral degree in a field such as forensic psychology, criminology, or criminal justice. Advanced degrees offer more specialized knowledge and research opportunities in areas directly related to criminal behavior analysis, which are useful if you want to become a criminal profiler.


3. Gain Relevant Experience

Look for internships, volunteer opportunities, or entry-level positions in areas related to criminal justice or behavioral analysis. To obtain the training needed to become a criminal profiler, it might be necessary with law enforcement agencies, rehabilitation centers, juvenile detention centers, or legal firms. Hands-on experience is invaluable for understanding the practical aspects of the work and for building connections within professional organizations.

While you’re gaining experience, you’re also developing important skills needed to become a criminal profiler and building your professional network of contacts in the criminal justice field.


4. Obtain a Certificate (Not Mandatory, But Strongly Advised)

Consider obtaining more advanced training in the form of a professional certification, such as the Board-Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA) designation. Such certifications can enhance your credibility as you work to become a criminal profiler.


5. Apply for Jobs

Begin your search! Look for positions with law enforcement agencies, forensic units, government agencies, or private security firms.

You may also choose to go out on your own as a consultant. Also, roles in academia and research often use people who have advanced degrees.


Skills and Qualifications

Criminal behavioral analysts must have excellent analytical and critical thinking skills. Criminal profiling involves recognizing patterns hidden within evidence and complex datasets. From crime scene reports to witness testimonies, criminal profilers spend their days sifting through information in search of meaningful insights.


Understanding Human Behavior Is a Must

Criminal profilers contribute to law enforcement intelligence by applying their knowledge of human behavior and psychology to investigations. This work requires carefully deciphering criminals’ motives and predicting their next moves. Profilers also employ their own empathy and intuition as they conduct research alongside criminal investigators.


Strong Communication Skills Are Essential in Criminal Justice

Criminal behavioral analysts often work in multidisciplinary teams and must effectively convey their findings and recommendations to law enforcement officers. It is their responsibility to translate complex concepts and technical jargon into language easily understandable by non-experts. Being able to liaise between the worlds of academia and law enforcement ensures profilers’ guidance is applied appropriately to criminal investigations.


Sharp Problem-Solving and Keen Observation Skills Make a Difference in Criminal Justice

A criminal behavioral analyst’s work requires a keen eye for detail, the ability to remain objective, and a knack for problem-solving. To enter the criminal justice field is to make an unwavering commitment to uncovering the truth.

Every piece of evidence, no matter how seemingly insignificant, has the potential to crack a case open. Criminal behavioral analysts, for this reason, must meticulously examine every detail as a part of a criminal investigative analysis.


Preparing for the BCBA or PGKE Exams

Though they are not mandatory, passing a certified behavior analyst exam could help a criminal profiler to be set apart from peers. Also, it could provide greater validation and demonstrate a dedication to maintaining high standards of ethical conduct as a criminal behavioral analyst.

One popular exam is the Board-Certified Behavioral Analyst Exam® (BCBA), which is presented by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Another exam is the Profiling General Knowledge Exam® (PGKE), administered by the International Association of Forensic Criminologists.

Both exams are designed to validate the expertise and knowledge of professionals in criminal behavioral analysis. They’re a mark of professional achievement that can enhance credibility.

On these exams, eligible candidates must prepare for a wide range of topics, including criminal profiling, offender behavior analysis, crime scene analysis, and investigative techniques. Candidates must demonstrate a solid grasp of the theories and principles that constitute criminal behavioral analysis, and they must showcase their ability to apply this knowledge to practical situations.

"Criminal profilers typically receive valuable training that leads to certifications in criminal profiling. That’s important because certifications in criminal profilers reflects that someone has the knowledge and expertise to testify in court and to provide value in criminal investigations."
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member


Potential Career Paths in Criminal Profiling

Many criminal behavioral analysts and criminal profilers find employment with federal investigative agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), specifically in divisions like the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. They may also work with intelligence agencies, local law enforcement agencies (police officers), and research organizations.

In these roles, criminal profilers collaborate with detectives, FBI criminal profilers, and other criminal justice specialists to solve complex cases. They may also bring their knowledge of forensic psychology, criminal investigation, forensic psychology, forensic pathology, serial sexual homicide, and violent crime to these cases.

Criminal behavioral analysts can also pursue careers in academia. They may conduct research or teach future professionals at a law enforcement academy or university.

Consulting is another avenue for experienced analysts, allowing them to provide expertise to private organizations or as expert witnesses in legal proceedings.


Is a Criminal Justice Program the Right Path for You?

Criminal behavioral analysts and criminal profilers make invaluable contributions to every local law enforcement agency and to the criminal justice system. Their work helps ensure a safer, more informed society.

Aspiring criminal profilers may wish to pursue a bachelor's degree or master's degree in criminal justice from American Public University. The University’s online curriculum combines dynamic and comprehensive material designed to meet the evolving needs of the criminal justice student. Expert faculty members bring real-world experience to the virtual classroom for an encouraging and collaborative educational environment.

Classes start each month, and our University proudly accommodates working professionals through flexible programs and affordable tuition.

Learn more about our criminal justice programs and how you may begin your own journey in this exciting field.

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Note: The potential careers listed in this article are for informational purposes only. Additional education, experience, and professional licensure may be needed to obtain employment in this field, beyond what is provided by criminal justice programs at the University.

Board-Certified Behavior Analyst® is a registered trademark of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
Profiling General Knowledge Exam® is a registered trademark of the International Association of Forensic Criminologists.

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