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How Behavioral Analysis Is Used in Criminal Investigations

Start an intelligence studies degree at American Military University.

By Robert Brzenchekalumnus, Intelligence Studies at American Military University

Analyzing and properly deciphering human behavior is not always an easy task. When analyzing human behavior, patterns and habits create a bigger picture. This is why when you’re around someone for a long period of time, you begin to notice different nuances about their behavior. However, in most situations in the field, law enforcement officers do not have the luxury of time to best determine the behavioral profile of an individual.

[Related: Using the Reid Behavioral Analysis Technique to Elicit Confessions]

As a police officer myself, I recall having to make many split-second decisions based on the body language or mannerisms of an individual to determine if they were a threat to my personal safety or that of others. In order for officers to be able to quickly assess and interpret a person’s behavior, it is beneficial for them to be trained on various forms of behavioral analysis.

What is Behavioral Analysis?

Behavioral analysis is the science and study of human behavior. Underpinning behavioral analysis is the philosophy that improving the human condition is best achieved when focusing on behavior change (e.g., education, behavioral health treatment) rather than less tangible concepts such as the mind and willpower. Behavioral analysts assess individuals with behavioral problems, study the influence of their environment on their behavior, or implement plans to fix unwanted behavior. Analysts often work in either a research capacity or in the area of applied behavior analysis, which uses principles learned in research to facilitate changes in behavior.

Law enforcement officers don’t have to be behavioral scientists in order to apply it to investigative work. The FBI has taken the lead in recognizing the value of behavioral analysis and has integrated its scientific findings to better understand and predict the behavior of violent offenders.

The BAU and Behavioral Analysis

The FBI has exponentially expanded the application of behavioral analysis in criminal investigations by creating the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), which consists of three separate units:

  1. Counterterrorism/threat assessment
  2. Crimes against adults
  3. Crimes against children

The BAU is part of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), which is managed under the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG). According to the FBI’s website, the BAU’s mission is to provide behavioral-based operational support to federal, state, local, and international law enforcement agencies investigating unusual or repetitive violent crimes, terrorism, and time-sensitive matters such as kidnappings.

BAU analysts aim to deconstruct and analyze the psychology of violent individuals through the use of case studies, criminal evaluations, and forensic science. BAU analysts use a two-pronged approach that combines the experiential evidence of law enforcement personnel with outcomes of clinical studies conducted by forensic psychologists to better understand the behavior of threatening individuals.

Behavioral Analysis in Corrections

In addition to helping investigators solve countless violent crimes, the BAU program is constantly collecting information on violent offenders in an effort to better understand the minds of violent offenders and identify patterns of behavior.

In the corrections space, FBI agents conduct interviews with inmates to gain insight into every aspect of their life. For example, an inmate serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole may be interviewed on his earliest childhood experiences and other life experiences to gain insight into why he abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered a pre-teen girl.

While officers know that offenders may not tell the full and complete truth during such interviews, there are still lessons to be learned from both the fiction and the non-fiction. As part of the process, BAU analysts regularly video record offenders, which allows them to further analyze the offenders’ behavior. This is instrumental in training researchers, social workers, medical staff, and law enforcement personnel about offender behavior patterns.

Sharing research findings and behavioral assessments is critical to the mission of the BAU. Through partnership with all levels of law enforcement, military branches, universities, and intelligence-based agencies, the BAU can share information about effectively assessing and identifying signs that an individual is potentially prone to violent actions. Demonstrating how behavioral analysis can be applied to criminal investigations not only helps solve crimes, but also educates officers and others about what behavior to look for so they can intervene in an individual’s path to violence.

About the AuthorRobert M. Brzenchek is a consultant, subject matter expert, and expert witness in the criminal justice and emergency management arenas. He has extensive cybersecurity experience as the current HLS/Cyber Chair for Strengthening the Mid-Atlantic Region (SMART); a member of the Spectrum Group Security Team consulting on ISO (27001, 28000) projects globally; a former member of the ASIS Investigative Standards Technical Committee; and conducted ISO 27001 internal audits since 2005. He earned a master’s degree in intelligence studies from American Military University and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Capella University with a proposed dissertation focused on gangs. He was a police officer for six years, where he performed suppression and intervention techniques with various gangs ranging from MS-13, Bloods, Crips, and Latin Kings. In the private sector since 2005, he has worked with DHS, DOD, large corporations, ports, and public utilities on security matters, risk management, policy, and technologies. He is a nationally certified instructor with the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST). To contact him, email For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.

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