Making sense of the incomprehensible. That’s the specialty of the eight agents of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit-2, or BAU-2.
Mollie Halpern: Making sense of the incomprehensible. That’s the specialty of the eight agents of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit-2, or BAU-2. They get inside the twisted minds of serial murderers like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Allen Muhammed. The very names of these notorious killers incite fear and fascination, and their horrific acts attract the attention of the public, the media, and mental health experts.
Mark A Hilts: The type of cases we get involved in, the serial murder cases, the unusual, the bizarre cases, are the type of cases that most people, the average individual struggles to understand themselves. Why would somebody kill 10 different people over a year’s time period? What kind of person would chop somebody up or would carve something into a victim or would do some other bondage or other type activity? So it’s something that as normal human beings we struggle with, we don’t understand.
Halpern: I’m Mollie Halpern of the Bureau, and you’re listening to “Inside the FBI.” Coming up, get an inside look at the work of the agents Hollywood calls “profilers,” what it takes to become an agent in the BAU, and how they’re using their expertise in new ways.
But first—how the BAU evolved. Back in 1985, the FBI established the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime in the Bureau’s Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy. Its continuing mission: to consolidate investigative and operational support with research and training in order to provide assistance to local law enforcement. Supervisory Special Agent and BAU-2 Unit Chief Mark Hilts…
Hilts: It’s looking at those types of cases that a police investigator doesn’t see every day: a child abduction, a serial murder, a serial rape case. The behavioral expertise of the agents became known as FBI profilers, and they were looking at the crime from the behavioral aspect. What I mean by that is they were focusing on the motivations of the offenders. What’s the meaning behind the activities at a crime scene? Why was a particular person victimized? Were they specifically targeted by this individual or were they simply a victim of opportunity in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Halpern: The Violent Criminal Apprehension Program database, or VICAP, was established in tandem with the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. It helps connect the dots in cases involving solved and unsolved murders, sexual assaults, kidnappings, missing persons, and unidentified dead bodies.
Hilts: The idea being that if a murder is committed in California, and a murder is committed by the same offender in Florida, and there’s very similar behaviors at the crime scene, how are those two detectives going to know about each other? How are they going to know that that other case exists? So the idea is, if both those homicides are put into this database, then the crime analyst personnel at VICAP would helpfully match that and would tell those detectives and say, “You guys need to talk to each other and compare evidence.”
Halpern: As the FBI’s mission evolved, so did the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. These days, BAU is in the process of becoming four units, each with specific responsibilities. BAU-2 will continue to focus on providing support to local law enforcement when they are confronted with unusual violent crimes like serial murder, but will also apply their expertise to non-violent crimes.
Hilts: Right now, this year particularly, we are actually shifting our focus to more of an enhanced focus on those FBI cases with an emphasis on public corruption and white-collar crime.
Halpern: Whether it’s white-collar crimes or serial murder, fellow federal investigators and local law enforcement turn to BAU-2 because of the perspectives the agents bring to cases. It’s what makes the BAU so successful.
Hilts: The perspective that we look at in the Behavioral Analysis Unit is the behavior, it’s the motivations. It’s the “why” part of a criminal investigation that we are looking at. And because the type of cases we are looking at are generally a little bit more unusual, which is why somebody comes to us, that’s what we have to develop our expertise in is understanding those unusual cases, studying those serial killers, looking at hundreds of cases of serial killers and, in some cases, talking to them. We’ve done research and interviewed serial killers to understand why they do what they do so that we can help determine how we can catch them. That’s really the perspective that we bring is that behavioral side of the investigation.
Halpern: The BAU agents also bring their investigative case experience, education, and specialized training.
Hilts: Because we’re seeing cases from all over the country and literally all around the world, we’ve had the opportunity to see that kind of activity multiple times. We had the opportunity to see case after case that are unusual. We have the opportunity to see a dozen serial murder cases in a year, whereas your average police investigator may have one serial murder case in his career.
Halpern: Before an agent even enters the BAU, they’ve already had between seven to 10 years experience as an FBI agent.
Hilts: About half the agents in my squad are former police officers, so in addition to our FBI experience, we have state or local law enforcement investigative experience, and that’s what we find is extremely beneficial to our work here is having the practical investigative, hands-on investigative experience as FBI agents and/or as state and local police officers in conducting the investigation.
Halpern: Hilt began his law enforcement career as a police officer in Texas.
Hilts: After several years of experience there I got the itch to try my lot in the FBI. I considered the FBI to be the best, to be the best law enforcement agency in the world, and I wanted to see, could I be one of the best? So, that led me to the FBI.
Halpern: Even with experience in local law enforcement and the FBI, BAU agents must still go through additional training, which can last up to two years.
Hilts: It’s a two-part training process. Phase one is a classroom. It’s about 16 weeks long of classroom instruction from both internal and outside experts. When someone has completed that, then they go into phase two, which is kind of a period of mentorship, and they work cases in all three different BAUs so they can get a broad range of experience and all the units’ responsibilities
Halpern: A crime analyst and a major case specialist are also part of the unit. And, the BAU works closely with the FBI Lab. The unit reaches outside of the Bureau for expertise as well. For example, BAU works with forensic psychologists and psychiatrists from Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Hilts: We have an outside board of scientific and academic experts that work with us to ensure that our research is valid and is scientifically and academically accepted. We can also review and assemble the research that others have conducted on that particular crime topic. We can then be in a position to have as much information about that type of crime as possible.
Halpern: The BAU provides at least a dozen services to local law enforcement, and each one is tailored to the individual case. They collaborate on cases with the locals, unlike the way BAU is portrayed on popular shows like CBS’ Criminal Minds.
Hilts: We’re going to come out, we’re going to meet with them, we’re going to talk with them, we’re going to provide them our assistance, but we do not take over the case. The case remains their case. It’s not a matter of, “The feds are here we are in charge.” It does not work like that at all. We’re there at their request and at their assistance. They’re going to be the ones that actually solve the case. They’re the ones that are the true heroes and the true people in the front line. We work kind of once removed from the cases. We are not dealing with what the front line detectives have to deal with, so we’re kind of removed. And we kind of look at the cases clinically as much as we can and try not to get emotionally involved, which I suppose may sound somewhat cold, but if we get emotionally involved with every single case we work, we frankly wouldn’t be very effective.
Halpern: BAU agents will review case materials like crime scene photos and reports which the local law enforcement already prepared.
Hilts: We’ll read through it, and again that’s the part that you don’t see in movies and TV. The hours and hours that our agents spend just simply sitting at their desks reading offense reports. We always try to get multiple people involved. We don’t do one agent one case. There will be a case agent assigned, but he will be supported by other agents and other members of our unit and/or outside experts as needed in reviewing the case.
Halpern: The BAU then presents local law enforcement a report of its conclusions, assessments, and advice.
Hilt: And frankly, they can take it or leave it.
Halpern: And when they take it and it helps solve a case, Hilts says his work is especially rewarding.
Hilts: I just really have found myself fascinated by the opportunity to study, understand, and provide assistance in what are really the most interesting cases that come to the attention of law enforcement. Personally, it’s very rewarding to work these types of cases, to be involved in these types of cases. And, to be involved, even sometimes to a small degree in the resolution in a significant serial murder or other bizarre case. It keeps you going on the next cases, because the cases we do see are also really the most horrible cases, and the activities that we see are often times very brutal, and it can be tough from time to time to deal with that, but for the most part, myself and the other agents that are here recognize that that’s part of the price of solving the cases.
Halpern: The Behavioral Analysis Units—providing perspectives to the most disturbing of cases. Thanks for listening to “Inside the FBI.”