Former B.C. cop trying to trace killerís steps

'Geographic profiling': Kim Rossmo's computer software used in serial crimes

Tom Blackwell
National Post

Saturday, October 12, 2002

'This guy is not a sniper. He is just a crazed gunman, and he is giving snipers a bad reputation.... We don't want some knucklehead crazed criminal coming here'.-- Rodney Ryan, who runs a sniper training centre in West Virginia:

Kim Rossmo was no slouch as a Vancouver police officer. He was the first to suggest a string of missing person cases involving B.C. prostitutes may be the work of a serial killer, pioneered a revolutionary investigative tool and lent a hand to police forces around the world.

For his efforts, he was knocked down from detective inspector to constable in a move that prompted a high-profile wrongful dismissal suit.

Mr. Rossmo may not be fretting much about all that today, though. As research director of the U.S.-based Police Foundation, he has been recruited to use his concept of "geographic profiling" -- deducing where a criminal lives based on where his crimes take place -- to help solve the sniper shootings that are terrorizing the Washington, D.C., area.

It is a technique, now built into patented computer software, that has aided police forces around the world to crack serial crimes and has earned him a large share of the spotlight on the Washington case.

Mr. Rossmo's new role is just the latest in a career that saw him earn a PhD in criminology while working full time as a police constable, vault several ranks in one fell swoop and head a geographic profiling unit at the Vancouver Police Department that led the world.

Colleagues described him yesterday as a driven man who spends little time playing politics, but is quick to defend his rights when wronged.

"He is very focused on his work and he is a very straightforward kind of guy," said Ian Laverty, president of Environmental Criminology Research Inc., the company formed to market Mr. Rossmo's profiling technology.

"The police are a very hierarchical, up-through-the ranks kind of organization, where anything which jumps ranks is bound to generate friction.... Probably any dispassionate observer could have seen a conflict coming up [at the Vancouver P.D.]"

Paul Brantingham, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University and Mr. Rossmo's PhD advisor, said his former student is an extremely hard worker who also "is very intelligent."

His contribution in the D.C. area has involved using the locations of the sniper attacks to try to calculate where the killer lives. No one has revealed the results of his work, and a spokeswoman at the Police Foundation said yesterday that Mr. Rossmo was too busy working on the case to do an interview.

Mr. Rossmo was a constable with the Vancouver police when he went back to school at Simon Fraser. Its criminology department specialized in environmental criminology -- studying where criminals carry out their deeds as a means of forewarning potential victims and preventing crime.

Mr. Rossmo took that idea and essentially turned it inside out, figuring that the same knowledge could be used to determine where a serial criminal lives or works based on where his offences took place, explained Dr. Brantingham.

Using the mathematical and statistical training he received in undergraduate studies, he developed a statistical model for blending the data together and pinpointing the area where the killer, rapist or thief is most likely to live.

The resulting computer software, called Rigel, is also based on a key facet of criminal behaviour -- culprits will not stray far from home to commit their misdeeds, but also won't lash out too close to where they live.

When information on the location of at least five crime scenes is entered into the program, it automatically moves across a map of the area and calculates the amount of effort involved in committing the crimes from various home bases. The most likely home location is then identified.

Mr. Rossmo verified the technique by applying it to the child murders of Clifford Olson, pinpointing accurately where the killer lived.

It has since helped solved serial rape cases in Mississauga, and Leeds, England, a rash of burglaries in Ontario cottage country and a string of robberies around Staffordshire, England. It has also been used in serial murder and bombing cases, said Mr. Laverty.

A visionary police chief promoted Mr. Rossmo to detective inspector and put him in charge of a pioneering geographic profiling unit at the Vancouver department. But his contract was cancelled five years later, bumping him back down to constable as a new chief looked for ways to cut costs.

In the meantime, his report suggesting that the missing persons in B.C. might be serial-murder victims was ignored. It has since been acknowledged as the biggest serial murder case in Canadian history. 

© Copyright  2002 National Post

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Rossmo sought unit to probe women's deaths-June 26, 2001



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