Signature and Modus Operandi

Signature and Modus Operandi




Signature and Modus Operandi

Varieties of aspects related to forensic psychology are utilized in the identification of suspected individuals in violent crimes in police investigations. Some of the primary aspects of identifiable and measurable criminal behavior in forensic behavioral analyses are offender signature and modus operandi. Hazelwood and Warren (2004) note that all criminals engaged in crime usually have modus operandi that is made up of habits, techniques, and peculiarities in their behavior which are executed with three primary objectives namely completion of the criminal act, affect escape and avoid investigation and capture. On the other hand, offender signature is categorized as either signature behavior or aspect. Offender signature provides a definition of the motive or theme of a criminal offense. The two approaches have been effective in providing criminal justice officials with the capacity for categorization and identification of suspects in criminal activities.

Hazelwood and Warren (2004) utilize behavioral analyses, in what they term as linkage analysis, to identify sexual crimes, which are committed by a single offender. They note that linkage analyses usually evaluates the behavior inherent in the three components that make up a crime namely modus operandi, fantasy based behavior or rituals and signature which is combination of unique behaviors. They described linkage analysis as a process that focuses on collection of varied and detailed information that selects significant features in a crime. Woodhams and Labuschagne (2007) also explore case linkages as part of behavioral analyses in criminal activities. Schlesinger et al (2010) provide a discussion of signature and rituals, whereby they claim that the two are repetitive and fantasy-driven crime behaviors prevalent across sexual homicides.

In essence, there is a common challenge in differentiation of modus operandi against offender signature, which arises from the consideration that specific offender actions may satisfy the categorization of both offender signature and modus operandi. The strategy towards determination of the type of behavior that should be classified into a specific category is reliant on the totality of the context that encapsulates an offense. For example, a rapist may be able to cover his face. However, the act could be modus operandi behavior as he seeks to conceal his identity. In addition, such an act may be classifiable as offender signature in that covering the face, the offender enhances the sexual pleasure accruable from the crime.

Furthermore, I profiling a bank robber or burglar who conceals his face, an investigator could assume such an action as a modus operandi given that concealing identity is critical towards execution of the crime without being arrested. Differentiation between offender behavior and modus operandi in other crimes is relatively easy and straightforward. Thus, in using case linkage, criminal justice professionals are able to identify and correlate elements of a crime with the objective is apprehending a criminal. Critics have also noted that it is possible to have two or more offenders who have similar signature behavior and modus operandi in one geographical area at a given time. Thus, it is critical for professionals to undertake effective analyses of the role of circumstances related to an offense to make accurate determinations in relation to the classification of such behaviors.

In essence, case linkages, may be effective in identification of the patterns of crime and undertaking subsequent classifications for accurate profiling of a criminal. In addition, further profiling can be undertaken with the aim of narrowing the pool of suspects and establishing legal charges against an offender. Thus, it is critical to make use of the growing body of knowledge and skills in behavioral analyses to ensure that justice is dispended fairly for both victims and suspects.



Hazelwood, R. R., & Warren, J.I. (2004). Linkage analysis: modus operandi, ritual, and signature in serial sexual crime. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 9: 307-318

Woodhams, J. & Labuschagne, G. (2012). A test of case linkage principles with solve and unsolved serial rapes. Journal of Police Criminal Psychology, 27: 85-98.

Schlesinger, B.L., Kassen, M., Mesa, V., & Pinizzotto, J. A. (2010). Ritual and signature in serial sexual homicide. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, 38: 239-246.

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