The Real World of the FBI Special Agent in the Behavioral Analysis Unit

The primary purpose of the NCAVC is to provide behavioral-based operational support to law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, local and international levels in the investigation of repetitive violent or unusual crimes, terrorism or communicated threats as well as other matters of interests to agencies of law enforcement and national security.

Special agents and professional staff of the NCAVC provide advice and support on cases that range from child abduction to cyber crime. Services are proved with on-site case consultation, consultations at the NCAVC office, and telephone conference calls. Each FBI field office has a coordinator who helps organize services. Requests from law enforcement agencies for NCAVC assistance are referred to the coordinator in the appropriate field office. Services provided by the BAU include:

  • Crime analysis;
  • Profiles of unknown offenders;
  • Investigative suggestions;
  • Threat assessment;
  • Critical incident analysis
  • Interview strategies;
  • Media strategies;
  • Linkage analysis;
  • Search warrant affidavit assistance;
  • Prosecution and trial strategies;
  • Expert testimony; and
  • Geographic profiling (provided through an agreement with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives).

Behavioral Analysis Units of the NCAVC

Each unit within the BAU has specific responsibilities. BAU 1, the counterterrorism and threat assessment unit, focuses resources on matters involving terrorism, bombings, threats, arson, cyber-related violations, stalking, and active or anticipated crisis situations.

BAU 2, crimes against adults, focuses resources on serial, mass, spree and other murders, kidnappings, missing person cases, sexual assaults, and other violent crimes that target adult victims. This unit also assists in potentially non-violent investigations such as public corruption, white-collar crime, civil rights situations and organized crime.

BAU 3, crimes against children, focuses resources on crimes committed against child victims. These crimes include mysterious disappearance of children, abductions, sexual victimization and homicides.

Research Duties of Special Agents in the NCAVC

NCAVC personnel conduct research into violent crimes from the perspective of law enforcement. Focus includes how offenders commit their crimes, how they are identified, apprehended and convicted and how they attempt to avoid detection. Research is designed to improve insight into criminal behaviors, motivations and thought processes to help refine investigative techniques and improve the law enforcement effectiveness.

NCAVC shares the results from the research with the law enforcement community, as well as academic communities, through publications, training and presentations. It also plans and coordinates multi-disciplinary conferences to provide the opportunity to look at complex law enforcement issues from multiple perspectives. Results from these conferences are coordinated and distributed by the FBI in usable and readable materials.

Personnel from the NCAVC conduct trainings around the world through presentations conducted with prosecutors, corrections officers, judges, law enforcement investigators, military investigators, health care professionals and members of the academic and scientific communities. The NCAVC staff are also regular instructors at the FBI Academy’s National Academy as well as speakers at several annual training presentations at major academic, scientific and law enforcement conferences in the U. S.

The Violent Criminal apprehension Program

The Violent Criminal apprehension Program (ViCAP) is a web-based data information center that is the largest investigative repository of violent crime cases in the entire United States. The center collects and analyzes information about homicides, missing persons, sexual assaults and other violent crimes involving human remains yet to be identified. It compares information to assist in identifying similar cases and hopefully move investigations forward.

ViCAP helps facilitate cooperation between law enforcement agencies and helps coordinate efforts to apprehend and prosecute violent serial offenders, especially when they cross jurisdictions. Since the database was created by the Department of Justice in 1985, over 4,000 law enforcement agencies have submitted cases to ViCAP and the database currently holds over 82,000 cases.

Becoming a FBI Special Agent

Getting a job at the FBI in one of the units in the NCAVC, as with any job with the FBI, requires applicants to submit their resumes and applications online through the FBIjobs system through USAJOBS. Career paths are either as a special agent or professional staff. The tasks that are most people associate with the “profiler” are performed by Supervisory Special Agents who are assigned to the NCAVC at Quantico, Virginia.

Applicants of course must pass a background check as well as physical and mental tests during training at the FBI Training Academy. Special Agents are not automatically assigned to NCAVC right out of the academy. They must have at least three years experience to be considered for the NCAVC, but because the positions are so competitive, selected agents usually have eight-ten years experience as a Special Agent.

Special Agent positions in the NCAVC typically require experience and demonstrated abilities as a Special Agent rather than specific degrees; however, advertisements for these positions usually list an advanced degree in a Behavioral or Forensic Science as a preferred qualification. Individuals interested in working in the NCAVC should pursue a degree in the discipline that most interests them because becoming a Special Agent does not guarantee an assignment to the NCAVC.

Professional staff positions in the NCAVC are just as competitive, but candidates do not go through the same training as the special agent candidate. Candidates are required to complete a battery of written tests and, for some positions, specialized testing in their field of expertise. Once the tests are passed, candidates may be eligible for an interview based on their competitiveness with other candidates, overall qualifications, and the needs of the FBI.

Working for a Behavioral Analysis Unit in the NCAVC can take years to accomplish. An advanced degree in forensic psychology or criminal psychology can be an advantage but does not guarantee a position. To become a “profiler” like Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs, individuals must first become a FBI Special Agent. While the FBI Special Agents in Hollywood’s Criminal Minds take on a wide variety of cases and the team flies in a private jet to crime scenes across the U.S.; in the real world the BAU is comprised of four specialty units that do not necessarily travel to crime scenes.


The copyright of the article “The Real World of the FBI Special Agent in the Behavioral Analysis Unit” is owned by Cheryl Weldon. Permission to republish “The Real World of the FBI Special Agent in the Behavioral Analysis Unit” in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

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