As a licensed private investigator in Texas many moons ago, I studied Graphology and examined documents for various crime cases and court proceedings. Today, I retain an interest in this forensic activity and it’s a fun hobby and exercise at parties and get togethers with friends.
Recently I learned of a five year study performed by researchers evaluating many examiners, most of them government employees, where they undertook 100 handwriting comparisons using digital images of such writing produced by 230 people.
Of the 100 tasks:
🔹44 were comparison of documents handwritten by the same person
🔹56 were comparison of documents written by two individuals.
🔹Unknown to the participants, a tenth of the comparison sets were repeats of sets they had already seen—a way to test how consistent each participant was over time.
The FBI’s Laboratory Division, in conjunction with Noblis, Inc., recently published their scientific research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about the accuracy and reliability of forensic handwriting comparison.
The paper, “Accuracy and Reliability of Forensic Handwriting Comparisons,” summarizes the results of the five-year project.
The FBI Laboratory undertook this research to provide estimates of error rates—how often document examiners make correct writership decisions—as well as how often an examiner reaches the same conclusion when seeing the same documents again, and how often other examiners reach the same conclusions.
This study was the largest of its kind, involving examiners from U.S. and international crime laboratories and private practice. Collectively, these examiners made more than 7,000 document comparisons and provided information with which to correlate results to levels of education and experience, along with other metadata.
Examiners in the FBI study expressed their conclusions in the form of five ratings: definitive that the same writer had or had not written the compared samples, probable that the same writer had or had not written them, or no conclusion.
Features of interest included letter spacing, how letters connect, and the drop or rise of “legs” below or above a letter, such as the tail of a small letter “g” or the upsweep of a small letter “d.”
Overall, in 3.1 percent of cases, examiners incorrectly concluded that the same writer had composed the comparison samples. Different writers who were twins tripped the examiners up more often, leading to a false-positive rate of 8.7 percent. The false-negative rate of samples that were incorrectly attributed to two different writers was even lower, at 1.1 percent.
The study is part of a portfolio of research projects conducted by the FBI Laboratory to evaluate the accuracy, repeatability, and reproducibility of pattern evidence examiner decisions.
It was modeled after a highly acclaimed 2011 FBI Laboratory study about the accuracy and reliability of fingerprint examiner decisions, which is widely regarded within the forensic community as a gold standard in pattern evidence study design. That research project formed the basic design for this study and resulted in more than 15 scientific publications to date.
Over time, criminals have deviated from their modus operandi according to the development of forensics, technology and science.
🔹At one time we didn’t use fingerprints or DNA samples.
🔹The developments in biology, criminology, psychology, brain technology, and neuroscience have come together in the emergent field of neurocriminology.
For instance, if a cold case includes fingerprint evidence from 1990, it is worthwhile resubmitting for laboratory analysis because Next Generation Identification systems have expanded the power of its analysis. DNA analysis from ten years ago showed a good mitochondrial DNA profile, but the nuclear DNA was a little light, so it is prudent to re-test since the scientific capabilities have improved over the years.
Today, there is now a growing inclination on the part of this emerging field to predict, prevent and manage violent behavior. The developments in brain imaging technology is undoubtedly an emerging gateway to reducing crime rates.
In the same way criminology has played its part, it is likely neurocriminology will be able to positively assist in the world of criminology.
🔹Knowing the social and environmental factors creates an incomplete picture in criminology without familiarizing and fully understanding the biological factors.
🔹With knowledge expansion of the biological factors that relate to criminal behavior, we can focus and trace back to childhood development and how this plays a huge role in the making of a violent individual.
🔹In essence, as long as politics does not get in the way, we can use this information to predict the individuals likely to go down this unpleasant route in their life. We may be able to help them AND PREVENT CRIME.
How do we best reduce crime?
🔹We have learned that crime does cluster in hot spots.
🔹We have learned that there is stability in these hot spots over longer periods of time, but far less stability when looking at short periods.
🔹We also know that the public is leery and that we know very little about how traditional strategies affect individuals, their neighborhoods, and the larger community.
It is easy to blame politics, social engineering, advertising, special interests and media of all of all kinds: television programing, Internet social media, newspapers, magazines, etc. They are directly involved with societal norms, fads, propaganda, music and fashion changes. Most movies are not worth watching for societal value anymore. The bottom line is most indicators for the state of societies mental health are not that good.
The links between mental disorders and rates of crime are visible and significant in many ways.
🔹Having a mental disorder does not label you an offender.
🔹An idea that persistently emerges within public perception is that people with a mental disorder are more likely to commit criminal acts.
🔹In actual fact, people with mental disorders are more likely to be the victims of violent crime.
People with mental disorders can be viewed as vulnerable preys to cruel predators or bullies. Mental disorders are prevalent in all aspects of the criminal justice system – from offenders to victims and their families.
Many concerns faced by the American criminal justice system will not subside unless we can identify how much blame can be placed on people with mental disorders for their actions.
Neurocriminology is an emerging field which adds assistance and value to the prediction of crime.
🔹Scientific predictions are not always supported without facts; they rely on evidence and knowledge of social, environmental and biological factors in the making of offenders, and the causes of criminal behavior.
To determine the seriousness and level of responsibility someone has for their actions, we can look up to the criminal justice system. The evidence determines the fairness of the judge’s sentence. Sometimes, the sentence is too lenient or too exaggerated. This is how neurocriminology can assist in determining the level of blame an individual has for their actions. In some cases, neurocriminology can assist in finding a suitable rehabilitation program for ex-offenders.
Just like the use of forensics, we cannot solely rely on neurocriminology to give us all the answers, but we can use neuroscience with the evidence to present a more accurate account of the crime.
Neuroscience can provide further explanations for the way some individuals react to crime and their mental capacity.
🔹An example of this is the lack of emotions or fear sometimes expressed on these individual’s faces which can occur as a result of reduced ability to emotions, such as fear and aggression (amygdala functioning).
My wife, Dodie, a neonatal nurse for years, tells me that during fetal development, brain development is a significant factor.
🔹This makes up for a large proportion of prediction related to people who commit violent acts.
🔹The changing structures of the brain help us to determine the making of offenders.
Crime psychology and studies reveal that the likelihood of criminal behavior can start during fetal development and can be traced back to the mother’s pregnancy.
Factors that come into perspective are the mother’s habits.
🔹Did they smoke, drink alcohol, take drugs?
🔹Were there any genetic disease predispositions?
🔹How about injuries during birth or later that could affect the brain?
🔹What are the indications of any dysfunctional brain mechanisms in the fetus?
🔹What was the mother’s nutrition (which is absorbed into the bloodstream) like?
It is important to know how the general welfare of both mother and baby was.
For criminals, hurting others can be a form of pleasure and gratification.
🔹Research suggests that people with triple morbidity (those with severe mental disorder, substance use disorder, and antisocial personality disorder) are far more likely to be violent than someone with a severe mental disorder alone.
🔹A severe mental disorder on its own does not form a violent individual.
🔹It takes multiple disorders alongside other social and environmental factors to produce a violent individual. This is the trend that we have seen in many notorious killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy.
🔹Having a mental disorder is relevant.
🔹However, it may not always be a valid excuse for committing criminal acts. It could be a disservice to target those with a mental disorder as future offenders. This is not how neurocriminology works.
Brain imaging technology can help to track the development of people with brain deficiencies. Most people who have a severe mental disorder do not go on to behave violently. There are many factors that contribute to the making of an offender which are also influenced by a wider social, environmental and biological context.
Sometimes, when we hear that a perpetrator has a severe mental disorder, it becomes a central focus for the cause of the crime. The mental disorder becomes an excuse for their behavior. However, a mental disorder cannot be the sole cause of a crime.
🔹A pre-existing mental disorder is completely different to substance abuse and intoxication because your mental capacity level is permanently reduced rather than on a temporary basis.
Before you undergo the acts of substance abuse or intoxication, you have the choice to either go ahead or walk away, knowing the consequences, knowing how much of an impact this will have on your mental capacity and whether you are capable in such a state of committing a criminal offence.
The most likely fear that the general public has most is an act of violence that is out of the blue. One of the first reactions is that reasonless and being so unpredictable must automatically be associated with those that have a severe mental disorder.
Where my trouble is with neurocriminology, is that different stimuli activate different functions of the brain. Similar to a weather forecast, which we rely on every day for our general activities, neurocriminology is predictable in an unpredictable way.
Weather forecasters can and do make mistakes. We can predict the weather forecast, but we cannot predict the exact severity of it and how it differs in different locations. Similarly, we can predict whether someone is likely to commit a crime, but we cannot predict the type or location of the crime or the severity of the crime.
Moreover, opportunistic crimes are also difficult to predict. However, we can try and place mitigation efforts within our power to prevent someone from committing a violent act in the future.
Perhaps an emphasis on positive mental health can transform an individual’s destiny or planned route to violent behavior. This is why neurocriminology is the future and adds huge value to the world of criminology; in supporting to reduce violence and crime.