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For Find Out Friday Week 25- The Truth Behind the B.A.U.

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also filled with overcoming it.”

                                                                       -Helen Keller

I had a professor who walked into my classroom on the first day of Criminology 101 and said: “I am not a criminologist nor do I know what a criminologist does”. I should have gotten up right there and walked out.

As I sit here now I wonder if he had ever watched any crime dramas. As for me they are my genre of choice.

For the last couple of weeks I have been obsessed with Criminal Minds. Perhaps obsessed is too on the nose for a show about the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the F.B.I. but so it goes.

My obsession, as it were, started innocently enough when I stumbled on to a season ten or eleven marathon that ION television was playing one day. There wasn’t anything else on so I decided to give it a try. As a Law and Order devotee I knew crime mysteries were my thing but I wasn’t sure I could get into another series but this was such a departure. Criminal Minds is a much faster paced show than I am used to but above all the writing and acting is phenomenal. I was instantly sucked in.

As a fan of all things politics and law related I once considered joining the F.B.I. or working in the field of criminal justice. At one time I even thought that would be my major in school. I ended up with a B.A. in Sociology and a M.A. in Political Science, which is not that far off really.

Thus now these fields are a favorite hobby of mine. Shows that hit the nail on the head just deepen my love.

The very first thing I noticed upon thrusting myself into Criminal Minds was that each show begins and ends with a quote. At first I found this odd but now I sort of get it. However there is no word on why or how the producers decided to set their show up in between words of wisdom. But those words are sometimes so strong I wish I had the presence of mind to write them down. Luckily there are many fan sites, CBS included, that list the best of the best.

Criminal Minds is a show set around the F.B.I.’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) and the cases they fly around the country to help solve. They are asked by cities, towns, and locales to help solve crimes using their signature set of profiling skills.

As a new fan of the show I wanted to separate fact from fiction and see how much of what I love to watch is real. 

The B.A.U. was originally called the Behavioral Science Unit and was created in 1972 by F.B.I. agents Robert Ressler and John Douglas. They sought to incorporate psychological analysis into the profiles they created to catch spree and serial killers, or as they would call them UNSUBs (Unknown Subjects). I believe the character of Agent David Rossi is based on these gentlemen.

Robert Ressler is also said to have created the word serial killer. I can hardly imagine a world without that word. UNSUBs are big on Criminal Minds and that took some getting use to. Other crime dramas are hardly as technical.

The real B.A.U. is part of the larger National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC). The F.B.I. is clearly a fan of acronyms. The goal of both of these units is to assist any way they can with time sensitive acts of violent crimes.

As for the real B.A.U. the one unit system, as shown on Criminal Minds, was dismantled in 2014. Now there are several units that are tasked with specific crimes to focus on.

The units are broken down into the following categories:

  1. Behavioral Analysis Unit-1 Counterterrorism/Arson/Bombing;
  2. Behavioral Analysis Unit-2 Threats/Cyber/White Collar Crime/Public Corruption;
  3. Behavioral Analysis Unit-3 Crimes Against Children;
  4. Behavioral Analysis Unit-4 Crimes Against Adults; and
  5. Behavioral Analysis Unit 5 (research, strategy, and instruction).

Both the show and the F.B.I. are headquartered in Quantico, Virginia.

The most famous cases the B.A.U. has worked on were serial killings by Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer. Below, the fourth link down, has the top ten cases this unit has been involved in.

The photos above are of Ted Bundy’s car that I saw when I visited the Crime and Punishment Museum in Washington, D.C. back in 2010. I also took my fake mug shot (hopefully the only kind I will ever have) there as well. Unfortunately that museum has closed but is looking to resurface in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

As for the cases the B.A.U. takes on, the show implies that they can only be involved if the appropriate jurisdiction has asked for help or there is a crime occurring over state lines in which the F.B.I. has automatic jurisdiction.

In truth the requests for help come from any agency of government and law be it federal, state, or city. They also receive requests from international governments. While on the show the team always flies to the location of the crimes to assist, in reality the aid they provide can be sought through telecommunications, consultations at the B.A.U., as well as on site.

A common misconception is that the agents working these cases in B.A.U. are profilers whereas that is just one aspect of their job. Therefore they do not deliver a profile the way you see on television. That is for mere dramatic effect.

The final item on my verification list was the private plane the B.A.U. has on the show. Of course this does not exist in real life. Many profilers do not travel often and if they do they fly coach like the rest of regular people. I expected as much from a government funded agency.

However, all cases on Criminal Minds are based on true stories, another favorite of mine ( The show runners do try to find a way to tell these stories that will be realistic and not too terrifying. But for me knowing they are true makes me want to watch even more while blocking out the scariest of the scariest of details. 

A fun fact is that while numerous books, movies, television shows, etc. use the F.B.I. and the many units within it as part of their creative works, they are under no obligation to contact or verify the information they include. But the F.B.I. is glad to provide any information a willing actor, writer, or producer would like to know in order to have an accurate portrayal.

If I were still in contact with my former Criminology professor I would gladly tell him what a criminologist does: “studies a criminal's behavior for clues to psychology to aid in capturing them.” Perhaps this quote from the F.B.I. would have provided some clarification for him.

I am proud to say that UNSUB is now a part of my regular vernacular and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. Just as Obergruppenfuhrer has become a pleasant addition to my vocabulary since I started watching “The Man in the High Castle” as you learned in a previous Find Out Friday blog (

The show is currently airing its twelve season but I am still on season six. I can hardly imagine what awaits me and yes I am watching it right now.

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