Being an FBI Agent and What Comes With It
Of all the occupations in the world, the most gruesome of them all has to be working in the FBI criminal intent unit. These types of people have to read and witness the most horrible crime scenes. Crime scenes so awful that the average person wouldn’t even be the same after witnessing such things. But with that they also have to be able to have a lot of mental strength dealing with the things they see.
When in the mind set of an FBI profiler or someone working in the criminal intent unit, there is a need to understand how to separate work life from social life. The person doing this cannot be like a seasoned homicide detective who builds a wall of what they call the `isolation of affect’ between themselves and the horrors they see. To do this job effectively one must be able to laugh and joke around with some child-killer or look at the horrors of some case and casually discuss what had happened to a victim. By trying to visualize and imagine what the victim experienced and try to figure out why the subject did these things to this victim. To be able to do that it really becomes emotionally and physically draining says John Douglas, but it is what has to be done in order to stay sane. As John shared more of his experience with us, he told us about some questions he would ask the prisoners he would visit just to better his knowledge and skills. He would ask questions like: Why did this killer select this victim over that one? And how did they get that child out of that shopping center? Did this suspect follow the press (reports)? Asking these questions helps give a better idea of what was going through the killer’s mind when he chose that specific victim or chose to commit that crime in this specific area.
To know the killer, one must know the victim and the crime scene. When it comes to the victim one must know everything there is to know. For example, how and where the crime took place, what happened verbally, physically, and sexually because without these aspects it is hard to really know who he is; to know the artist you must look at the artwork as John stated. John then goes into detail about his process prior to the interrogation with the killer: Before the interview he has to know the scene, he must look at the crime scene and the crime scene photographs. He also has to look at the preliminary police reports, autopsy photographs and read the autopsy protocol. John has to do an analysis of the victim called victimology, where he tries to ask the question, `Why was this victim the victim of this particular crime?’ Then, armed with all that information, he’ll go in there. Talking with the criminal is a crucial part of investigations, especially when there are multiple suspects. Talking with each one will help narrow down the options. Also with the more verbal communication the more John Douglas can watch the suspect and get a feel for his body language and the answers the suspect gives to the questions he is asked. Body language speaks very loudly to the types of people who study human behavior and criminology.
With different kinds of murderers comes different amounts of victims and different kinds of kills. There are three main categories murderers fall under and what makes each one different. For example, as John puts it in to perspective, a serial killer is a killer who kills three or more victims and there is a cooling-off period in between each of the killings. And the crimes are relatively sophisticated. They’re premeditated to the point the fantasy is there and they are looking to act out the fantasy. The mass murderer is generally one event. All these post office cases and school shootings are mass murders. We say it’s four or more victims are involved in the slaughter. Generally, it ends in suicide by the subject or suicide by cop, where the subject puts himself in the position. The spree killer–Andrew Cunanan, Angel Maturino Resendiz–is generally known to law enforcement and is in a fugitive status and is killing, killing, killing. He continues to talk about how most serial killers are male. People will sometimes say that it is unusual to have black serial killers. That was true up until 1981 with Wayne Williams (child murders in Atlanta). But we’ve had cases since then. Proportionately, by population generally it is the white male, and when he does kill it is much more bizarre, like decapitation. Women usually will kill people close to them. Serial killing is really a male thing, a testosterone kind of a thing. Which is something I found to be really interesting because in a lot of crime shows I have watched, there is a good number of women killing people they don’t know or abducting children and making them their own.
Criminal investigators undergo a lot of pressure and stress during different cases. Matthew Leone states a really good point of what stress does to someone. He states the three-stage process identified by Selye, which connected psychological stress to physical disease, became known as the General Adaptation Syndrome. The first stage of this stress response was called the Alarm reaction. In this stage, the reaction to the onset of stress is immediate, but short-term. This is where humans would exhibit a “fight or flight” reaction to this new stress. While this stage is brief, immune system suppression was still found to occur toward the end of this stage. In the second (Resistance) stage, the body is attempting to adjust to prolonged stress. He continues by saying Metabolic changes occur as a result of these adaptations, and if the stress does not subside, the body eventually moves into the third, or Exhaustion, stage. In this stage, the physical resources of the body are depleted and the organ function is beginning to weaken due to the prolonged and unrelenting effect of these psychological stressors. When the individual has reached the Exhaustion stage, stress has been experienced for an extended period of time, and physical function may diminish gradually, or it may collapse quickly. The immune system may become corrupted, resulting in infections or other diseases due to reduced immunity. Heart attacks and strokes also become possible due to high blood pressure which often accompanies prolonged stress. With each different case comes a different kind of stress and a different way of coping with what has been seen. For example, when it comes to murder cases as Dr. Laurence Miller states the sheer magnitude and shock effect of many mass-murder scenes and the violence, mutilation and sadistic brutality associated with many serial killings – especially those involving children – often exceed the defense mechanisms and coping abilities of even the most jaded investigator. In addition to that he also goes on to explaining how problems with other cases can be very emotionally damaging. As the investigation drags on, the inability to solve the crime and close the case further frustrates and demoralizes the assigned officers and seems to jeeringly proclaim the hollowness of society’s notions of fairness and justice.
As noted above, all the more disturbing are situations where the killer is known but the existing evidence is insufficient to support an arrest or conviction. This is one of the hardest to deal with, nothing is more shameful then having eyes on the killer and knowing who he is but there is just not enough to arrest him. To know how close the suspect was to being caught but because of the lack of evidence it leaves a feeling of such guilt and as if the killer is taunting the person who couldn’t gather enough evidence to convict this suspect. Stress and self-recrimination are further magnified when the failure to apprehend the perpetrator is caused by human error, as when an officer’s misguided actions or breach of protocol leads to loss or damage of evidence or suppression of testimony, allowing the perpetrator to walk. With that being stated it is a very exhausting effort in trying to solve these murder cases. Having a perpetrator walk free because of damaged or lost evidence can cause a person’s work quality to become hurt, they could start making sloppy errors which could increase a person’s vulnerability to more stress and failure with cases. Dr. Miller explains in rare cases when it comes to no-arrest cases, and particularly those involving children, some homicide or sex crime investigators may become emotionally involved with the victims’ families and remain in contact with them for many years. Some detectives become obsessed with a particular case and continue to work on it at every available moment, sometimes to the point of compromising their work on other cases and leading to a deterioration of health and family life. When it comes to cases related to sex crime investigations there is more of a frustration or sadness when it comes to those who were more vulnerable like children or the elderly. Most cases are hard to get through on a normal basis and it takes a lot of mental strength and coping skills to finish certain assignments. But those involving children that ended without an arrest or caught criminal can be even more damaging to someone’s mental process. Causing them to spend even more time on this case than others just to bring answers to the families that lost their children. Criminal investigators need to use coping skills regularly when doing their assignments to be able to finish them effectively. Dr. Miller has stated some strategies that criminal investigators use to cope and has gone into detail about each of them.
First, we have the defense mechanism and mental toughening, this is used as the most familiar way of blocking up unpleasant material who are used to taking a tough, suck-it-up attitude toward unpleasant aspects of the job. Next there is a strategy called compartmentalization or isolation, this affect is where negative emotions are separated out and put in a “mental file cabinet” in order to allow the rest of the officer’s cognitive faculties to keep functioning. Individuals differ in their ability to make this mental separation without undue emotional leakage into other areas of work and family life. Another strategy is intellectualization which is another strategy used to describe the process of detoxifying an emotionally wrenching task or experience by adopting the stance of detached, objective, intellectual curiosity: for example, the emotional revulsion and horror of encountering the remains of a sexually mutilated corpse is diffused and diluted by immersion in the technical scientific minutiae of crime-scene investigation and offender-profiling. Then we have the strategy of sublimation which refers to the process of turning a “bad” impulse into a socially acceptable, or even admirable “good” activity or vocation. For this strategy it can easily take the impulses that many people would consider bad or not natural and channel them into something acceptable while still getting that release. Humor is a strategy that plays a big role in coping when it comes to this job field. Being able to laugh about the horrors people see and the insane serial killers that walk this earth really helps with being able to play off that those things actually exist. Peer support and healthy humor from the people and the investigative team in the work place also play a big part in helping those in this work field stay sane.
With professionalism begins with a certain attitude that says the investigator will do his or her best because of a general service orientation and specifically because the work provides professional satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. Professionalism encompasses the physical space in which the investigator works. There is no reason for the investigator’s office to be unnecessarily grim, but bear in mind that this office will have a wide variety of professionals and civilians circulating through it – from liaison officers of other agencies in multijurisdictional investigations, to distraught family members of slain or assaulted victims – so officers should choose their decor accordingly. Certainly, explicit illustrations, crime scene souvenirs or other inappropriate decorations should not be in plain sight. Confidentiality is an essential part of professionalism. As Dr. Miller talks about, Victims and their families must be certain that their sensitive material – testimony transcripts, crime scene photographs, videotapes, property used for evidence – will be seen only by those directly involved in solving and prosecuting the case. Aside from being the right and ethical thing to do, the assurance of reasonable privacy and dignity serves the practical function of encouraging better cooperation from victims and potential witnesses, which may yield information vital to closing the case. This helps give the families a piece of mind that the whole world won’t be watching or see the things that happened to their child or loved one. In a sense the case, crime scene tapes and photographs will be kept quiet and professional.
Professionalism extends to the investigator’s language and behavior. Again, this is not to encourage undertaker-like solemnity or schoolmarmish over correctness, but maintaining a certain decorum of speech and demeanor is important for the public and for co-workers. Remember, sex crimes investigators must struggle with the “creep factor” even among their colleagues, so anything that contributes to the impression of serious professionalism – proper and respectful handling of gruesome or pornographic evidence, for example – will serve to heighten credibility. Again, without encouraging inappropriate over formality, the use of technical terms, not slang, should be policy, especially when communicating with civilians. All professionals – doctors, lawyers, engineers, psychologists – have their own distinctive terminology that serves to facilitate communication among them and highlights the fact that these are members of serious professions with knowledge and experience in what they do. As Dr. Miller discussed these strategies as stated above, there are far more that play different roles in keeping calm and level headed while working on hard stressful and emotionally draining work.
Crime scene technicians collect evidence related to crime and are therefore exposed to many traumatic situations. The coping strategies they use are thus very important in the process of facing the psychological consequences of such work. The available literature shows that crime scene technicians are an understudied subgroup of police workers. Our study is therefore the first unfolding insights into technicians’ coping strategies, post-traumatic symptomatology and somatic health, based on a sample of 64 male crime scene technicians as Tinkara Pavšič Mrevlje states. Another interesting fact Tinkara Pavšič Mrevlje states is crime scene technicians mainly use avoidance coping strategies. Approach strategies that are more effective in the long-term—i.e. lead to a larger buffering of the effects of traumatic stress—are more frequently used if technicians are familiar with the nature of the task, when they have time to prepare for it, and if they feel that past situations have been positively resolved. Behavioral avoidance strategies were found to be least effective when dealing with traumatic experiences and are also related to more frequent problems of physical health. But aside from all of those things it really means so much when people get through those hard cases without damaging or losing evidence so the criminal doesn’t walk free.
This is related to expertise as a key component of professionalism. As Dr. Miller continues to explain, New York City police officer and author Vincent Henry notes how truly dedicated investigators spend much of their own time, often at their own expense, reading books and journals, attending seminars and conferences, conferring with colleagues and downloading software, all to increase their knowledge and expertise in forensic investigation. For such professionals, education does not end with their basic law enforcement or criminal justice curriculum; rather, it is a process that extends and suffuses into all of one’s professional career. Personally, I wish more doctors had this attitude.
Criminal profilers deal with a lot of things that go on around them and the things they see during a normal work day. I think it is honestly to their advantage being able have all this knowledge about other people. They can pick up on body language and get a sense of people if they strike them as off. Yes, the work field they are in can be very physically and emotionally draining and damaging. But they have all the people that work with them who understand and can help. Even is some people in this field are not the type who like to go to people and talk out their problems, there is a wide variety of coping methods. It may be difficult but with practice and the help of others around at work can make it a lot easier to deal with the things seen on a daily basis and in a way people become desensitized to it the more they are subjected to. When is comes to stress Matthew Leone made a really good point by stating in an effort to estimate the effect, certain events have on subjects’ stress levels, researchers have attempted to calculate a value for the stress associated with many life events. The Life Events Inventory lists life events and the relative stress (for both males and females) associated with each of these events. While the order varies slightly across gender, death is overall the most powerful cause of stress, and the death of a spouse, an immediate family member, or a close friend rank among the highest stressors for both men and women.
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