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What Criminal Minds Gets Wrong About FBI Profilers

From the very first episode of "Criminal Minds," it's been the mission of the heroic investigators of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit to track down serial killers across the nation. Using their extensive resources, they take charge of investigations and find the killers, arrest them, and bring them to justice. The BAU is an elite unit within the FBI, composed of the best and the brightest minds the agency has to offer. On "Criminal Minds," BAU members fly across the country in a private jet and usually have their investigations wrapped up nicely within a week or two, with no loose ends and iron-clad cases to present in court.

While this makes for great television, the reality of life as an FBI agent is considerably different from that of the BAU agents on "Criminal Minds." It's a bit less like the life of an action-hero-adjacent agent and a lot more procedural and methodical than the series would have you believe.

Criminal Minds is far from reality

While there are a number of profiling positions within the FBI, profilers don't function the way the characters do on "Criminal Minds." In fact, though criminal psychologists do act as consultants to FBI agents, there's no formal profiler position within the bureau. The frequently asked section of FBIJOBS.gov confirms, "The FBI does not have a job called 'Profiler.' Supervisory Special Agents assigned to the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) at Quantico, VA, perform the tasks commonly associated with 'profiling.'"

Lea Winerman's American Psychological Association cover story "Criminal profiling: the reality behind the myth" affirms these facts, noting that agents' jobs are more analytical and take place far away from active crime scenes or on the streets in an active investigation. The BAU does exist in real life, but the profilers seen in the thrilling weekly drama series have no real-life counterparts.

Also, the cases on "Criminal Minds" tend to be solved rather quickly (usually within a few weeks), but real-life criminal investigations tend to take months, if not years, to reach fruition. Cases themselves are also few and far between, as opposed to the killer-of-the-week format seen on the show. One wonders what's happening in the world of "Criminal Minds" that it produces so many serial killers.

FBI agents' lives have decided lack of glamour

On "Criminal Minds," members of the BAU frequently fly across the country in a private jet, confront the killer of the week in a tense showdown with guns drawn, and take point on any investigation that comes their way. The truth of the matter is much less glamorous, though still exciting. Real-life criminal psychologists spend their time behind desks, researching files and cross-referencing data in an effort to crack the case. As consultants, they don't take the field to engage with suspects or take charge of investigations. They're an asset the FBI utilizes to help in investigations, not field investigators themselves.

"In reality, it is an exciting world of investigation and research — a world of inductive and deductive reasoning, crime-solving experience, and knowledge of criminal behavior, facts, and statistical probabilities," FBIJOBS.gov notes.

While the work of real-life criminal psychologists helps FBI investigators, the reality of their day-to-day responsibilities doesn't really lend itself to thrilling primetime drama. The liberties taken by the creators of "Criminal Minds" may not represent reality, but they do make for exciting TV.