Mindhunter Is Why Criminal Profiling Is Utter Garbage

Let's play some high-stakes pretendies!

Netflix’s crime drama Mindhunter is a compelling watch, telling the lightly fictionalised story of FBI agent John Douglas (reinvented as “Holden Ford”, which… yeah), the chap who first came up with the notion of interviewing serial killers and in so doing invented the discipline of criminal profiling.

And it’s thrilling stuff, echoing the similar premise of The Silence of the Lambs and all the many, many spinoffs, which draws from the same well. Indeed, Thomas Harris consulted Douglas when he was writing it.

“We have a book club. We meet on the first Wednesday of the month. Everyone brings a plate.”

So it’s a real shame that criminal profiling is absolute garbage.

OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration: criminal profiling exists in several different forms around the world, but can be broken down into two broad types: the sort in Mindhunter which seeks to delve into the twisted mind of a killer, and the actually useful British version which… doesn’t.

That version is called “investigative psychology” and was developed by Dr David Canter (now emeritus professor at the University of Liverpool).

It doesn’t busy itself with questions about sexual tastes or a killer’s relationship with their parents. It asks things like “given the pattern in location and time of the crimes, here’s an idea of the sort of area the killer probably lives and what sort of job he does.”

(And yes, it’s almost always he, don’t @ me.)

“Also, how is that question relevant to an investigation of a crime? Show your working.”

That sort of stuff is generally a lot more useful to police trying to catch a killer, since saying “hey, this person we arrested before for sexual violence lives in the area and drives a van for work, we should interview them about these local van-murders” is rather more practical than “OK team, we’re looking for a guy who feels ambivalent about his father and struggles with his sexual identity! Go get ’em!”

“To put it bluntly, Douglas’s writings should be in the fiction section,” Canter told the Guardian. “Speculations about the mind of a criminal have never helped a real-life investigation.”

Indeed, he goes further: “You can’t knock on someone’s door and ask: ‘Where were you last Thursday and what are your masturbatory fantasies?’ That’s not how investigations work.”

“Am… am I wasting my life?”

And some of the problems with profiling come down to problems with psychology generally – for example, that the things that motivate us are generally a mystery to ourselves, so the idea that serial killers would be gifted with some sort of insight that eludes the rest of us is a bit of a leap.

Anyway, Mindhunter is still a compelling watch. Pity that the science of criminal profiling is as obviously a work of fiction as “Holden Ford”.

It's Not Legal To Wee On Your Car But Australia Still Has Plenty Of Weird Crimes On The Books

Sorry, weird law lovers, you've been fibbed to.

There are a lot of laws out there, and a lot of the time they just sit there until someone goes “hey, this is a bit weird, we should get rid of that.” And one that gets brought up a lot is that you can wee on your car in public.

Sadly, however, a lot of the weird laws in Australia turn out to be no entirely correct – almost as though you shouldn’t turn to the internet for random legal advice.

One that gets brought up relatively often is that it’s illegal to be drunk in a pub in Australia. And that’s sort of true: it’s illegal to serve someone who is visibly drunk under Responsible Service laws

And yes, you can absolutely be fined in South Australia for singing rude songs in public: it’s covered under the Summary Offences Act.

“But officer, I genuinely WAS on the good ship Venus…”

It’s also illegal to interrupt a wedding or funeral in SA, thanks again to the Summary Offences Act (section 7A). Which is just one of the reasons why The Graduate and My Best Friend’s Wedding weren’t set in Adelaide.

And yes, it is actually illegal to own more than 50kg of potatoes: at least, in WA where the the Marketing of Potatoes Act 1946 is still in application.

Another popular one is that that it’s illegal to walk on the left hand side of the road, which is sort of true – but only sort of.

If a road has no footpath or nature strip, or if it’s not practical to use said footpath or nature strip, the law says that pedestrians must walk facing the traffic as a road safety measure.

Depressingly, some of the most hilarious laws cited as being weird Australian laws are either no longer current (for example, in Victoria it was technically illegal to change your own lightbulb unless you were a qualified electrician, but that law was changed in 1998) or just plain made up.

For example: that you can wee in public as long as you are urinating on the rear left tyre of your own car. Police would like to advise that no, that’s not a thing and please stop doing it, you will definitely be arrested. You’ll even get a $500 on the spot fine for it in WA.

Another one is that it’s illegal to wear pink hot pants in Victoria on Sunday afternoons. It’s on dozens of “can you believe this crazy law?” sites with many questions about what could possibly have inspired such specific legislation, and the answer is simple: nothing. As far as anyone can ascertain, it doesn’t and have never existed.

Nor, sadly, is there a law forcing Queensland taxi drivers to carry hay bales, or any legislation demanding bikini sizes on Gold Coast beaches (or demanding neck-to-knee bathers in Melbourne).

Some things are just too good to be true.

What Are Your Rights When Carrying Out A Citizen's Arrest?

When the situation calls for a crateload of justice, what's the legal situation?

As reports of multiple people being stabbed in Sydney’s CBD flooded news feeds, busy streets went into lockdown and social media went into overdrive.

And even as the full story unfolded we saw the footage of the alleged assailant being pinned down by members of the public with chairs and a milk crate until the police arrived.

Which immediately raised a bunch of questions. For example: while you might enthusiastically applaud the actions of the brave people who restrained the man, is it legally permissible?

Could they be also be charged? Actually, what happens if I crate someone in the street myself?

And these questions have answers.

Can you even carry out a citizen’s arrest in NSW?

Short answer: yes.

The longer answer is in Section 100 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002: “Power of other persons to arrest without warrant”.

(1) A person (other than a police officer) may, without a warrant, arrest a person if:

(1) A person (other than a police officer) may, without a warrant, arrest a person if:

(a) the person is in the act of committing an offence under any Act or statutory instrument, or

(b) the person has just committed any such offence, or

(c) the person has committed a serious indictable offence for which the person has not been tried.

(2) A person who arrests another person under this section must, as soon as is reasonably practicable, take the person, and any property found on the person, before an authorised officer to be dealt with according to law.

…so the people that crated that fellow up were acting within the law to carry out a citizen’s arrest.

Today, we are all crate fans.

But if it turned out that they got the wrong guy (or he’s released without charge) then the person in the crate could sue for unlawful imprisonment or even level assault charges, so you really do want to be pretty confident about the situation.

What can’t you do?

Anything other than detain them until the police arrive, really. You don’t have the right to search them or their property, and you have to ensure that the person is detained but safe. More on that in a second.

The police would also rather you didn’t do citizen’s arrests for the most part, since the chances of you or someone else being hurt in the process are pretty high and on balance they’d rather you didn’t make things more complicated. That includes legally, as you’ll see.

Are you liable if the person you’re detaining gets hurt?

Yes. You have a duty of care for the person you’ve detained, exactly as the police do, and can only use “reasonable force” which is a hard thing for a citizen to estimate – which is another reason why the police don’t like people doing arrests.

Detained people can – and do – sue for civil damages or even allege criminal assault, so it’s a high risk strategy.

Oh, and if you carry out a citizen’s arrest you also have a duty of care if you let them go before the police arrive – so if you do detain someone, commit to doing so until the authorities arrive.

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