FOR investigative psychologist David Canter, catching criminals is tougher than the TV would have us believe.
Criminal profiling may have been popularised in shows like Cracker, but the reality is more painstaking – as Huddersfield University students will soon find out.
Prof Canter and his International Research Centre for Investigative Psychology is coming to the uni, along with his own massive archive of material from 40 years scouring the psychology of crime.
In addition to continuing his own work, he will supervise post-graduate research into a wide variety of topics, including the relationship between personality and crime, eye-witness testimony and the pathways to radicalisation in Islamic jihadi groups.
He distances himself however from the TV psychology sleuths who always wrap up the case.
Prof Canter said: “It is very misleading to think that psychologists will ever solve crimes.
“Crimes are solved by the police.
“What we are doing is developing a new understanding of criminal behaviour and developing whole strategies and styles of carrying out what I call problem-solving research.”
It was research that made a major contribution to the capture of the ‘Railway Rapists’ David Mulcahy and John Duffy.
Mulcahy and Duffy received three life sentences and 30 years respectively for 12 sex attacks and the rape and murder of three women.
For the first time, British police had made use of an offender profile drawn up by a psychologist.
Prof Canter’s arrival heralds not just the possibility of the town becoming a key contributor to the science, but another advancement in the acceptance of the techniques.
He said: “When we started out there was very little existing research and getting data from the police on which to work was virtually impossible.
“They are much more educated now and they have a much better understanding of the benefits of our research and how it can contribute to investigations.”
He has also been a pioneer of geographical offender profiling and has developed software named Dragnet which can help to identify where an offender may be based.
This is being actively developed at Huddersfield, working closely with computer scientists.
He added: “It is also important to emphasise that although our work grew out of contact with the police, it is relevant in many other situations.
“We have done work on insurance fraud, which is not often investigated by the police, and we have done work with the military, looking at the location of improvised explosive devices, trying to see whether or not they may reveal patterns similar to those that we have seen in where offenders commit their crimes.”
Prof Canter is determined that investigative psychology should keep its practical application – which includes spotting false allegations.
With police stations across the world now having entire units dedicated to the science, Huddersfield University could be producing the investigators of the future.