Texas State U. professor develops new model to track serial killers’ logic
Mar. 03, 2009
Kim Rossmo said even the most bizarre serial killers have a structure when searching for targets.
He wants to find that structure.
Rossmo, endowed chair and professor in the department of criminal justice at Texas State University, is the world’s leading geographic profiler. He works with local police in crime investigations and intelligence.
Rossmo began his developments in the field of geographic profiling after deciding to improve the tracking model.
“If we can understand (serial killer’s underlying logic), we can use that information to decode their patterns and focus on criminal investigation.” Rossmo said.
Quint Thurman, chair of the criminal justice department, said Rossmo has gained recognition for himself and the university through his accomplishments.
“Dr. Rossmo’s work is unique. He is one of a kind,” Thurman said. “He is the world’s leading geographic profiler, and he invented that discipline based upon an algorithm he created while he was getting his doctoral degree.”
Rossmo said his Ph.D. supervisor helped him discover the idea.
“The field of environmental criminology is concerned with why crime happens and where it happens,” Rossmo said. “He developed a model that helped explain where crimes occur based on where an offender lives, works, plays and travels.”
Rossmo said he had an idea to change the mechanics of the model.
“The question was if crimes have occurred that you think were done by the same offender, what can we say about where that offender is based, where he is living, where his anchor point is?” Rossmo said.
His development in the field began after generating a program to fit the model.
“That was my doctoral research question, and in the course it led to a computer algorithm that I developed, which then became software called Rigel,” Rossmo said. “I then began to be asked about cases and people began asking for help on cases.”
Thurman said he became acquainted with Rossmo through a mutual friend and his growing popularity in the criminal justice field.
“I was running the Midwest Criminal Justice Institute at Wichita State University. Their idea was to bring in the most gifted criminal justice public safety people in the country and have them teach,” Thurman said.
Thurman said Rossmo’s exhibition caught his interest.
“He spent two days teaching people about geographic profiling, and I was skeptical at the beginning and hooked at the end,” Thurman said.
Thurman introduced Rossmo to Texas State while working together at Sam Houston State on crime mapping along the border.
“What I was thinking is ‘I know a geographer map guy from criminal justice, which if we had this grant we could bring him in to do this piece of work for this project and have an opportunity to show off Texas State, get him used to the area and then make it permanent,’” Thurman said.
Rossmo took the job at Texas State and has since brought recognition and funding, Thurman said.
“Currently, we are expecting him to get $1.3 million,” Thurman said. “It has been designated for us for some projects we have been working on with the U.S. Military. Some of the projects he is working on are military applications.”
Rossmo said the research has brought in most of the funding in the department.
“Thurman thought this stuff had value. From the university’s prospective, we have been able to turn this line of research into something — like more than $3 million worth of funding,” Rossmo said.
Pete Blair, assistant professor in the department of criminal justice, has worked with Rossmo for two years. Blair said the recognition gained within the department is substantial.
“It helps to give us some name recognition,” Blair said. “He is well respected within our field and that adds to the way people see us.”
Blair said Rossmo’s form of work differentiates from other profilers in his math skills.
“Obviously, something like what Dr. Rossmo does is something more like the traditional form of math, because he is looking to apply mathematical constructs to how far people travel. So I would probably argue his work is more mathematical,” Blair said.
Jennifer Carreon, graduate research assistant in the criminal justice department, has aided Rossmo for almost a year and is responsible for a “number of duties on separate grants,” including working with him on his software.
“By inputting certain crimes into this software, we are able to predict the possibility of future locations being victimized by a criminal based on a percentage basis (called the hit score percentage),” Carreon said.
Rossmo said his field will continue to grow and hopefully provide answers for investigations.