Limitations in Information Available

Any serious consideration of the information that is the basis of Investigative Psychology research and practice has to recognise the major limitations of that information, especially when it is directly derived from material which is available during an investigation. This can be quite rich information such as the details of the sexual behaviour of a rapist. It will also include such crucial factors as the time, place and nature of the offence, but it will not include the sorts of material that is the stock in trade of psychologists, such as the mental processes of offenders or their personality characteristics as may be indicated in personality questionnaires. Equally, while the information available does have certain strengths (such as the fact that it may have been given under oath), it does not come from material that has been collected under the careful controls of laboratory research. It is therefore often incomplete, ambiguous and unreliable.

Similarly, in order for the inferences to be of value to investigators they must connect directly with things that police officers can actually act on. Where an offender could be living is a clear example of useful information to an investigator, but more subtle material, such as how others may regard the offender or his/her likely skills and domestic circumstances, may also be of value. However, intensive psychodynamic interpretations of the offender's motivations, which might only become available during in-depth therapeutic interviews, are less likely to be of direct assistance to police investigators. For example, detectives were able to arrest and secure a conviction against Barry George for the murder of Jill Dando in the absence of any clear ideas about why he had committed this crime. As in many crime novels the motivations, or possibly more accurately the reasons, why an offender carried out an offence can be of general interest to investigators but they are only of value if they allow inferences to be made that will facilitate the detective decision-making process. In practice, however, police typically draw on ideas about the possible motive in any direct way only when they have no obvious lines of enquiry.

Any quest for motivation or motive is best seen as an informal attempt to develop some explanatory model that will help to link the crime behaviour to the offender. So, for example, if the motive were thought to be monetary gain then someone who would have a need for such money or who recently seems to have acquired a lot of money would be assumed to be a viable suspect. However, without clear empirical evidence on the particular types of behaviour that are associated with financially motivated crimes, and that the people who carry out these crimes do have a need for such financial gain, the interpretation of the motive and the inference drawn from it are little more than speculation. The weakness of such speculation can be demonstrated by the finding that those who have carried out insurance fraud have usually not been in particularly straightened financial circumstances. Dodd (1998) for example, demonstrated that only 13% of the 209 fraudulent insurance claimants he examined were in financial difficulties, whereas 57% were earning a regular income. In the same way, the commonly expressed view that rape is not motivated by the need for sexual gratification (e.g. Godlewski, 1987), again draws attention to the point that one cannot equate the gain derived from a crime with its motivation, or by extension, with a particular type of individual.

What are required scientifically are explanatory frameworks that can lead to hypotheses about the sorts of offender characteristics that are likely to relate to particular offence behaviours. There are very few studies at present that have demonstrated such relationships and even fewer theoretically precise models that provide guidance as to where to search for such relationships. Rather, the stage has been reached at which the various constituents of such models are being explored and the tests of various components of general models are being carried out.

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