Origins of Investigative Psychology

While some areas of the research such as the detection of deception and the evaluation of eyewitness testimony have a much longer history and rather different development, Investigative Psychology as a coherent discipline is surprisingly young.

Professor David Canter coined the term Investigative Psychology in discussion with Detective Constable Rupert Heritage, sometime in early 1990 at the University of Surrey, UK. It grew out of the recognition that there were many ways in which psychology could contribute to criminal and other investigations.

The earliest studies in this area focused upon sexual assault (Canter & Heritage, 1990) and geographical offender profiling partly as a response to David and Rupert's collaboration on the now frequently cited "Railway Rapist" case (see Canter, 1994 for a detailed discussion of the nature of this collaboration) although very soon all forms of criminality were being considered by Investigative Psychologists. The spirit of co-operation between practitioner and academic remains as crucial, if not more so, today, over a decade later but the field has grown very significantly since those early studies.

In deliberating on these matters it became clear that a new field of applied psychology was emerging. This field posed many challenges to conventional research methodology demanding a special approach able to cope with the muddiness and patchiness of its central data. Investigative Psychology would also involve those who work with the problems at the "coal face" in the academic questions.

Whilst early studies tended to focus on what the offender did, increasingly it has become apparent that attention to what the police do is also of great academic and practical interest. Thus, increased attention has, in recent years, begun to explore the significance of police decision making, problem solving, evaluating legal testimony and investigative interviewing alongside exploring the psychological significance of how offenders operate.