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September 7, 2011

How The Police Benefit From Behavioral Analysis – Communicating the Domains

I have an incredible amount of respect for our country’s police officers.  In the military, when we deploy, we go overseas knowing that in 6,7,12, or 15 months down the line, we get to come home.  We have to keep our game face on for a set amount of time, focus on hunting down the enemy, and then we come home.  It struck me the last time we were working with LAPD that they don’t have an end date when they can flip the switch off.  Every day at work, for them, is game day. For the entire length of their career, they are home.

Working the same neighborhoods for years at a time gives the police an incredible advantage. They know the streets just as good as the criminals who work them.  They know who the bad guys are and they know who they need to focus their efforts on.  The problem is, even when they catch a criminal, there is the chance that they get off and don’t get convicted.  If the judge throws out any evidence or the jury doubts anything the prosecution presented, the criminal walks.   That’s got to be frustrating.

Jason A. Riley

August 31, 2011

Naturally acting or acting natural?

How do you determine whether someone is doing something naturally or whether they are simply trying to act natural? For Marines on patrol, the question would be, how do you know if the farmer is actually a farmer working his field, or if the person is observing you and collection information on you but is trying to act like a farmer? For cops, the question would be, how can you tell the difference between the guy who is standing on the corner, smoking a cigarette, and minding his own business and the guy who is a lookout for the local gang and is trying to act like he is “doing nothing?”

Well, one of the principles of human nature that combat profiling uses to its advantage is this: Humans only look natural when you are naturally focused on doing one thing.

When your attention is divided, and your concentrating on doing more than one thing, your behavior and speech will appear unnatural. For instance, if someone is actually reading a paper then their attention and mental energy will be focused on reading the paper. If, however, that person is only acting as if they are reading the paper and instead are attempting to conduct surveillance, then their behavior will not look natural. Or imagine, for instance, having a conversation with someone who is attempting to discreetly watch someone in the crowd of people around you in an attempt to get some type of subtle direction from that person. The person you are talking to will not be focused on the conversation. Instead, his mental energy will be divided. His action will be “jerky” and his speech will seem choppy, broken, or slower than normal. His brain will have to switch back and forth between activities (Brain Rules, 84-88). As Alex Pentland, a researcher at MIT, explains, “When there are several conflicting “commands” coming down from our higher brain centers, each requiring our body to take different sorts of actions, this interferes with our ability to act in a smooth, consistent manner” (Honest Signals, 15).

August 30, 2011

Kinesics – Simplified

As we break down each section of the body throughout our kinesics class, analyzing gestures, postures, and expressions, we are given a window into a person’s mind.  This analysis lets us figure out how you really feel in any given situation.  It is the domain that everyone is waiting for, the opportunity to learn how to read body language.  Being able to understand and predict a person’s intentions gives us the ability to tip the scales of any engagement in our favor.

Some people pick up how to read body language right away while other students look at all the different meanings that each gesture could have and become overwhelmed by the wealth of possibilities.  When I first started learning, I was that guy.  It took me some time to become comfortable and confident in my ability to read people.  There are so many different gestures and expressions out there, that it seemed overwhelming.  Then I learned how to make it easier.

When I am profiling and observing people, I break all kinesic cues into just a couple of different categories.  The first question that I ask myself is,

Jason A. Riley

August 29, 2011

Establishing a baseline, for the first time

This post is very similar to one of PVH’s post entitled Establishing a Baseline? Step One.

You enter a new area. A new village. A new marketplace. And you need to establish a baseline fast, and you need to figure out if anyone wants to or is going to try to do you harm. Your first thoughts, “oh crap, what’s going on? Who is who? Who wants to hurt me? What is that person doing?” Recently I took some instructors out to do some instructor development. We went to an area that I’m only partially familiar with. As soon as we got there, and stepped out of the car, my first thoughts were, “What is going on? Do I even know what I’m doing?” So, what do you do when you’re in a new area and you need to begin establishing a baseline?

Establishing a baseline for the first time in a new area is not self-evident. An untrained individual may be able to do a decent job identifying certain things–the obvious things–but is going to miss important behaviors and patterns, and will focus on the wrong things.

August 28, 2011

Proximity Negates Skill – Why It’s Hard to Profile On The Fly

Last week I was able to take a few instructors from my team up to Los Angeles to do some instructor development with LAPD’s Gang Task Force.  Getting the opportunity to spend time with the officers who hunt down criminals every day is always a great experience because they live the profiling that we teach.  They don’t always use the same terms and may not have received the training that we provide, but when it comes to identifying the threats and the anomalies in their areas, they are second to none.

Every time we have collaborated with them, I have always come back learning something new.  This time was no different.  Last Friday I was reminded of how difficult profiling can be when the time is not taken to establish your baseline from an observation post (OP).   Being in an OP allows you to spend some time talking through the baseline and gaining an intuitive understanding of the area you are about to operate in.

The day before we went to LA, there was a shooting in the Hollenbeck District where we would be spending the day,

Jason A. Riley

August 28, 2011

What Behavioral Profiling is NOT

Behavioral Profiling is, first and foremost, NOT racial profiling. When identifying threats, we shouldn’t focus on race, religion, or ethnicity, but instead on behavior within a given situation. Unfortunately, since 2001, most Americans, including military and law enforcement personnel, have fallen victim to Islamophobia. We constantly look for people who look like “terrorists.” By this we implicitly mean young to middle-aged middle-eastern Muslim males. The problems with this mentality are numerous. First, only a very small percentage of Muslims are extremists, and only a small percentage of those individuals conduct violent acts. Second, criminals and terrorists come in all shapes, sizes, and ages; from all races, ethnicities, and religions; and can be either male or female.  The United States has suffered enough from its fair share of home-grown terrorists, such as Timothy McVeigh, that we should know not to assume that a person is a terrorist because of the way the person looks. Third, by focusing on unimportant things such as race or ethnicity, we miss out on the important behavioral indicators that are necessary in identifying threats. Additionally, when we allow our false pre-conceived notions to give us tunnel vision, we do not see the dangerous individuals who do not fit our “racial profile.”

August 26, 2011

Establishing a Baseline? Step One.

You can’t find the anomaly, that terrorist or criminal that you want to stop, unless you can clearly establish your baseline.  It sounds so easy.  Just figure out what is normal for that area.  So give it a shot, go into any restaurant, shop, or café and try to verbalize what you think your baseline is.  Even internally, as instructors, we have seen the results when the guidance given is that vague.  You can expect the answer to be a profound, “Yeah this looks normal.”  I don’t mind that answer, it is a starting point, but it is far from being sufficient.  We need to be able to break it down to its roots.

We stress the importance of establishing a baseline in our class, because only then can you go out and actively hunt for your anomaly.  The baseline is the foundation.  If you can’t communicate what your baseline is for any given area, your ability to understand what has changed will be greatly diminished.  Everyone has to be working off of the same baseline.

So where do we begin?  I say start by finding the pattern.  Take a Starbucks as an example. 

Jason A. Riley

August 25, 2011

Combat vs. Criminal Profiling

What’s the difference between combat profiling and criminal profiling?

I had a conversation today with an FBI profiler from the Bureau’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. During our conversation it became clear just how different criminal profiling is from combat profiling. The main difference is that criminal profiling is reactive, while combat profiling is proactive. What follows is a comparison and contrast between combat profiling and criminal profiling.

Combat profiling: This is a method of proactively identifying threats based on human behavior.
Criminal profiling: Also called psychological profiling or Criminal Investigative Analysis, is a method of developing a personality profile about a criminal based on the characteristics of the perpetrators crime or series of crimes (Criminal Profiling by Brent Turvey).

Comparison and Contrast:
Combat profiling: Proactively identifies threats based on behavior to prevent a crime or attack.
Criminal profiling: Reactively identifies likely characteristics of an offender based on a crime already committed.

August 24, 2011

Am I An Expert Yet?

I have been asked the exact same question at the end of every class I’ve taught: “I want to become a better profiler, so where can I go to learn more about this?” This site is one such place and we can recommend a number of books that will help you out. Before we do that though, the question I have for you is why? What’s the ultimate goal?


For some of you, including myself, there is no end. You could easily spend the next decade just reading the vast amount of books and journal articles out there and still find new ways to apply the skills that they teach you. But there has to be some sort of interim goal to guide your efforts, right? It was only a few days ago that I got asked a question that made me realize the first step that every new profiler needs to strive for.


I had just wrapped up an instructor development session with a few of my instructors at Pizza Port and was recapping it with my girlfriend when she asked me, “If you saw something about to happen, would you stop it or let it play out to confirm your prediction?” The Marine in me immediately said of course I would prevent it. But she stopped me, reminding me that she said before the act happened. That took a minute to think through.

August 16, 2011

Are All Habitual Areas Created Equal?

If you’ve sat through the class you know the definition: a habitual area is a place where anyone can come or go at any time, without any restrictions.  So that’s it?  I teach the class, but I can think of a thousand different questions regarding behavior that I might see at habitual areas.  While the definition works for the introductory class on geographics, you see that in practice, it isn’t always so cut and dry.  Should we consider opening up different classifications for habitual areas?

What if there were two different types of habitual areas: the restricted habitual area and the unrestricted habitual area?  If you were to visit a neighborhood park, there would be no question that you were in an unrestricted habitual area (unless of course there is some sort of gang presence there pushing people away.)  Anyone at all could come and relax, barbeque, and let their kids run around on the playground without any expectation of them.  But what about at a local restaurant, café, or coffee shop?  If you were to go to Pizza Port, would you classify that as a habitual area?  What about Starbucks?  I would definitely say they are, since anyone can come or go from there, but in that case, there is the expectation that they are going to buy something from the business.  They welcome you to sit at their tables to meet with people whenever you’d like, but aren’t those seats still reserved for customers?  However, I don’t think that requirement makes Starbucks or Pizza Port an Anchor Point.