Former FBI criminal profiler shares career experiences at Berkeley Forum event

Photo of Mark Safarik
Mark Safarik
Mark Safarik

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From violent serial murders to sexual homicide crime scenes, former FBI behavioral analysis unit member Mark Safarik has seen it all.

During a virtual Berkeley Forum event Monday, Safarik shared his 23 years of experience in the FBI and the 12 years he spent there as a criminal profiler. He has served in all levels of police work and has looked at thousands of homicide cases throughout his career.

“I really like the challenge of homicide, and the more complex the case, the more unusual the case, the more interesting it is to me,” Safarik said at the event. “I also like being in that position where you may be the last person that can really help in a case like this. You might find the minimal clues … that may help move a case over the top.”

While he eventually became a leading expert in violent criminal behavior, Safarik started out as a paramedic and wanted to enter the medical field. However, after an eye-opening experience hearing FBI agents talk about behavioral analysis, he decided to join the criminal behavioral analysis field.

Criminal profiling is just one tactic in a suite of criminal investigative analysis techniques, according to Safarik. As part of criminal profiling, he considers aspects of a crime scene that tell a “story,” such as risk factor for the victim versus the offender, injury components, motives and body disposal.

“When I got into investigation, it’s really sort of the puzzle of figuring it all out from the evidence and the interviews,” Safarik said during the event. “There’s nothing more complex than homicides because your victim can’t help you. You have to figure out all this information yourself.”

While Safarik is no stranger to television crime — he hosted the show “Killer Instinct” and consulted on popular crime drama series such as “CSI: Las Vegas,” “Bones” and “The Blacklist.” Safarik also noted that being a criminal profiler is not always what it looks like on the screen.

Agents on television often “do too much” and have dramatized work lives, according to Safarik. In reality, Safarik spends the majority of his time in his office analyzing case material and has a very specialized work focus.

Another major difference is that behavioral analysis is not a one-size-fits-all for every homicide case; only more unusual or extreme cases tend to be suitable for this analysis. Behavioral analysis is useful in making sense of the crime’s flow, and it engages multiple pieces to build understanding of the crime.

“I’m trying to understand what is the constellation of all this together,” Safarik said at the event. “I don’t want to just pull one piece out and go, ‘What does this piece mean?’ because this piece by itself may not mean anything. It only means something within the context of everything else that’s happening.”

Contact Cindy Liu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @_CindyLiu_.