Every new episode of Criminal Minds comes with a new case and new bad guys that the team has to hunt down. They get on their private jet, head to the scene of the crime, and use their profiling skills to make magic happen. While there are many real-life cases some episodes are based on, the rest of the work the Behavioral Analysis Unit does on this show is almost entirely fabricated, which can beg the question “how accurate is Criminal Minds? “
The show does not get everything wrong, though. There are a few things that happen in the FBI BAU on-screen that mimic what really happens when psychology meets police work.
What Criminal Minds Got Wrong About Profiling
Criminal Profiling As An FBI Position
There’s actually no such position in the FBI. There are some offender profilers and other types of profilers but they operate much lower on the food chain than what the BAU does on the show.
Criminal psychologists work on serial killer cases but they do not do the work that the BAU does onscreen. Their jobs are completely different, far less dangerous, and not even close to as glamorous or prestigious as the show makes them out to be. Criminal psychologists are not in the thick of every case and they do not fight crime the way the BAU team does.
Cases Take A Week Or Two To Solve
Most cases on the show are wrapped up nice and neat within a week or two. Real criminal psychologists often take at least a few months or even a few years to solve each case.
The show has a new case every week with story lines that were way ahead of their time, but that’s not how it works in the real world. There are not as many cases to solve and the ones that do cross a criminal psychologist’s desk are worked slow and steady. There are also a lot fewer resources than in the show.
The Team Confronts Killers Themselves
In real life, criminal psychologists never confront killers. They’re not put in harm’s way and are rarely in the field. A criminal psychologist’s work is 90 percent desk work done in an office, much more similar to what Penelope Garcia does on the show, but with more psychology and less hacking.
The team on the show is entertaining to watch and produces plenty of the best quotes in Criminal Minds. They have been shot, beaten, kidnapped, and even killed in the line of duty. But criminal psychologists in real life are never placed in life-threatening situations like this.
A Private Jet And Bottomless Resources
The team on the show has a private jet that they use to travel to various destinations while they’re solving crimes. They have big high-tech presentations for every case and Garcia is always at the ready to find whatever information is needed. There are no private jets for real-life criminal psychologists. They do not usually leave headquarters and would never have a need for a private jet. There are also no official presentations for every case. Someone hands someone else a file and that’s usually how it goes.
They have meetings sometimes but not big high-tech presentations. Garcia is another resource a criminal psychologist team would never have. She finds completely unrealistic information and uses hacking techniques to get it. Technical analysts are not unheard of, but they would not find the same information that Garcia always does.
They’re In Charge Of Every Case
The characters of Criminal Minds are engaging and even have hidden details that everyone misses. Every episode, the BAU is either invited onto a case by the jurisdiction where the case is or they take over in some other way. They come in and often tell the police how to work the case, making it look like their ways are superior and they have all the power. They take over dealing with the press and work on the case in the field.
Real criminal psychologists work in complement to the police. They’re really more like behind-the-scenes people and don’t take over anything if they help with a case.
What Criminal Minds Got Right About Profiling
“UNSUB” Is A Real FBI Term
Rumors in the world of Criminal Minds insist that the term “unsub” was created entirely for the show. In fact, this term has been used by the FBI and other departments to talk about unidentified subjects for years.
The term is also used by writers of crime fiction and true crime alike and has been for decades. In the show, they act like the term is being introduced, but that’s mostly because it was always used by professionals and most civilians watching at home would have no idea what “unsub” means.
Analytic Patterns Help Predict Traits Of Future Suspects
Criminal psychology and offender profiling both use analytics to predict the behavior of future killers, to identify when a case is dealing with a serial killer, and narrow down the pool of suspects in a given case. This work is always evolving when new things are discovered.
It’s a fairly new technique compared to others that are used more often in the field. It is not magic and it does not work out perfectly and accurately every time. But the science of behavior is used in similar ways to what happens on the show.
Researching Criminals To Add To A Larger Body Of Work
There are several episodes where the team is interviewing killers and researching to add to the body of work that other criminal psychologists can use in the future. While criminal psychologists may not be out in the field in the same way, they do add their own research to that larger project in order to further the information that future psychologists will pull from.
The field is relatively new and there are not as many case studies to refer to as other scientific specialties. Adding to the research is imperative in order to keep the criminal psychologist profession alive and evolving.
Some Cases Mimic Real-Life Killers
The cases that the BAU chases are not real, of course, but many of them do mimic the cases of real-life killers. These are killers that took criminal psychologists and police months or years to chase down, but they’re still real and the details of these cases show up in cases on the show.
For example, season 5, episode 23 – “Our Darkest Hour” – is about Billy Flynn, and his methods mimic “The Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez of 1989. In season 7, the 11th episode titled “True Genius” is about a Zodiac. Killer copycat. Details from those cases appear throughout these episodes. It’s no surprise there are over 20 top Criminal Minds episodes to choose from.
Mountains Of Paperwork
The more mundane aspects of the job are not often shown on the show, but every once in a while the idea of tons of paperwork is brought up. Hotch talks about it to Morgan when he’s getting ready to leave. JJ’s office is often filled with files. A couple of times, Rossi is seen with files and research that he frantically uses to find the next clue.
In the real world, this is what the job is mostly about. Criminal psychologists spend most of their time researching or working at a desk.
NEXT: The 10 Most Twisted Suspects On Criminal Minds
What Happened To Ben In The Umbrella Academy? Every Theory Explained
About The Author