- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

A retired New York police detective said yesterday that criminal profiling does little to solve homicides and has led to arrests in a small number of cases.
Statistical-based theories on the age, sex or race of an offender are often groundless in cases where little evidence exists, said John Baeza, a retired detective with the New York police department. And they are no substitute for strong police work, public tips and the occasional bit of luck, he said.
The lack of evidence and apparently random selection of victims in the eight sniper shootings around the Washington region last week make it a particularly difficult read for profilers.
"They might say he's a loser, a loner, he lives with his mother, whatever," Mr. Baeza said. "The only thing that helps is investigative suggestions."
Many reporters have called on former FBI profilers and academics in forensics and criminal psychology to theorize on what kind of person might be responsible for the shootings in Montgomery County, Bowie, the District and Fredericksburg, Va.
Though they have been working without direct knowledge of evidence at the crime scenes and acknowledge their psychological sketches of the gunman are tentative, several profilers have said what's known of the killer suggests he may be shooting for thrills and is probably a white man in his 20s or 30s.
Such details don't help police investigators or the public at this point in the investigation, said Charles Patrick Ewing, a forensic psychologist and professor of law at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.
They may be of use in a small town, he said, but the Washington area is so populous that it is unlikely that the statistical data will be helpful.
"It's really too early to believe a psychological profile is going to be useful," Mr. Ewing said. "It's so dense a population that it really doesn't narrow it down."
Yesterday, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose criticized former FBI agents and other criminal profilers for speculating about the sniper when they don't have the evidence available to them that police investigating the shootings have.
Mr. Baeza said that while the public typically should receive as much information as possible, police should withhold information that they know only the offender is aware of. The suspect, when questioned, may know to avoid mentioning something if he or she had watched it on television or read it in the newspapers.
"It's a delicate balance because the public has not only the right to know but the need to know for their own safety," Mr. Ewing said.
Mr. Ewing said community members may overlook a viable suspect if the person does not fit the description presented by profilers. While speculation that a man is responsible for the shootings is fairly safe, details such as race and age are much more questionable, he said.
"Certain things aren't a problem," Mr. Ewing said. "But race, certain characteristics, the car they drive could be problematic."
Clinton Van Zandt, a former FBI agent, called a profile a "living, breathing organism" that will change as the investigation goes on and more evidence emerges.
One case Mr. Baeza said was directly assisted by profiling is serial killer Arthur Shawcross' murders of homeless people and prostitutes in Rochester, N.Y.
Then-FBI profiler Gregg McCrary suggested surveilling a body dump site to which he felt the killer would return. It was there that police arrested Shawcross, who was convicted of 12 second-degree murders in 1991.


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