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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Where are the sociopathic cops?

I've always felt that the percentage of policemen who are sociopaths must be above average, simply because the job carries a certain amount of power and authority and would attract those who want legal cover to kick ass. So, if sociopaths comprise roughly 3% of the overall population, I'd guess -- and this is purely a guess -- that there could be roughly double that percentage among the ranks of the police. And I'm basing that mostly on the fact that the power inherent in the job can attract the wrong kind of individual.

Most of the police officers I've met have been very decent guys. But I've run across a few who were obviously narcissistic personalities, and a couple who were abrasive to the point where I wondered if they were sociopaths.

Police departments know that they attract power-hungry sociopaths, and therefore guard against them. I'm not sure exactly how they weed them out, but they probably use the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a long questionnaire, during the application process. The MMPI is larded with questions like, "Do you ever put off till tomorrow what you can do today?" Everybody does that at times, of course, so if someone answers enough questions like that dishonestly, that indicates sociopathy.

If you've read enough about serial killers, you'll be struck by the high percentage who've tried to join a force. Kenneth Bianchi, one of the two men who were collectively known as "The Hillside Strangler," tried to be a policeman.

Edmund Kemper, who killed his grandparents, his mother her friend, and six young women in Santa Cruz in the 1970's, had wanted to be a state trooper, but was rejected because of his 6' 9" height.

Orlando shooter Omar Mateen tried to get a job with the Florida Department of Corrections, but was involuntarily dismissed from its training program. Remember those pictures of Mateen with the NYPD t-shirts?

The reason the FBI were so suspicious of Richard Jewell in the Atlanta Olympics bombing case was because he fit the profile so well. He was a wannabe cop working as a security guard, and had been censured in the past for his "excessive enthusiasm" on the job. (The FBI initially thought that Jewell had planted the bomb himself so that he could then "discover" it and become a hero.) In fact, Jewell was a hero, since he helped evacuate the area before the bomb went off, and Eric Rudolph was later found to be the real bomber. But, he did fit a certain profile the FBI was familiar with.

In any case, police departments in the US generally do a good job of weeding out sociopaths these days: note that all of the people mentioned above were rejected by the police. (And I could easily be wrong about that ~6% guess.) But, inevitably, some slip through. Drew Peterson, the infamous Illinois police sergeant convicted of killing his third wife and widely thought to be responsible for the disappearance of his fourth, is an obvious case.

There have even been a number of cases where active or former police actually became serial killers. Most of the killers on this list are European, but psychology works the same way on both sides of the Atlantic.

However, virtually every time I've read recently about some well publicized incident involving the police and a black man who is killed, I end up siding with police. (Incidents involving police killings of whites don't garner nearly as much publicity.) And I haven't heard anything that makes me think that the cops involved were sociopathic, despite the fact that I tend to be on the lookout for signs of that.

There's no need to go over every recent highly-publicized case, but with most of them, after the initial media hoopla, it turns out that the innocent black victim was in fact not so innocent. The BLM movement essentially started with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and that case was not atypical. The cop involved there, Darren Wilson, was not only not the aggressor, but even showed remarkable restraint at first. And Wilson was by all accounts a diffident, well-mannered guy.

There have been a couple of recent cases where a jumpy cop overreacted, mostly out of fright; Chinese-American NYPD officer Peter Liang panicked and shot an innocent black man, Akai Gurley, in the darkened stairwell of a NYC housing project. And Geronimo Yanez, the Hispanic cop who recently shot and killed Philando Castile in Minnesota, may have panicked and overreacted as well, though that case is still being investigated.

But bear in mind, a panicky, frightened cop is actually the opposite of a sociopath: sociopaths tend to be cool under pressure, and rarely act from fear.

In fact, the only case I've heard of recently where a cop who was a likely sociopath killed an innocent man was the Charleston, SC case where Michael Slager shot Walter Scott five times in the back while Scott was fleeing. Slager claimed that Scott had taken his Taser, which was a lie; and Slager claimed that he felt in danger from Scott, but Scott was running away from him at the time.

That was, obviously, an out and out murder.

But overall, for every case I read where a cop is obviously guilty, or guilty of a panicked overreaction, there are several where the cop is not at fault, or where the situation is, at worst, a gray area.

(To listen to the BLM crowd, you'd think every case was like the Slager/Scott case.)

So where are the sociopathic cops? There have to be some of them out there. And why do they never seem to be involved with all of the highly publicized recent cases, most of which turn out to be nothing like the way the media initially portrays them?

My guess: when sociopaths operate, they're usually too sly to get caught. They're not going to just kill someone for no reason. And if they did kill someone, they'd make sure they were off camera, had no witnesses, and had a drop gun at the ready just in case. Slager would have gotten away with his murder if someone hadn't just happened to videotape it.

I also suspect that sociopathic cops, like most cops, do their utmost to avoid killing in the line of duty these days. (It's not worth the aggravation.)

Instead, their sociopathy probably gets expressed in a myriad of smaller ways: being corrupt, bullying other cops (especially those further down the chain of command), mistreating perps, and bending the rules wherever they can.

Despite what the media would have us believe, the cops we've read about recently, the ones who've been involved in shootings of blacks, have not struck me as sociopaths.


mark said...

A cop stopped a young couple with marijuana in a park near where I live. The cop basically tried to get sexual favors from the girl while he was allowing the guy to destroy evidence. The details are a bit fuzzy but this is the type of thing our friends, the sociopaths, are up to.

John Craig said...

Mark --
That's pretty low, though I'm not sure it necessarily spells out sociopathy.

Anonymous said...

One of my beliefs is that unemployed security guards are fairly murderous...the Orlando Omar was a security guard, years ago there was a McDonald's mass shooting guy James Huberty also an unemployed security guard, there are others

(forgive me not fact checking more, I am on a dinky demonic smartphone here)


John Craig said...

That would definitely fit in with the wannabe cop theory. Kudos to the cops for not allowing these guys on the force.

Ambrose Kane said...

Great insight John! As a retired cop who worked the streets my entire career, I've seen both the good and bad in the cops I've patrolled with. The greater majority of them were men and women of integrity. They weren't perfect. Adultery and alcoholism is a widespread problem. A good many of them are just government slugs putting in their years to get their generous pensions. Seeing the worst of society on a daily basis, they become calloused and indifferent to much of the crap they're exposed to (except in the case of children who are killed or who physically suffer).

A good many are Type-A personalities, no doubt, but I have not seen too many officers that I would consider complete sociopaths (although I recognize that you're better than me in noticing such traits).

In spite of their faults (they're human after all!), I don't believe for a minute that a large number of cops are eager to kill someone or engage in an officer-involved shooting. They know all the problems and personal scrutiny that will bring, especially since the death of Mike Brown and others. Most cops are idealistic at first when they start their careers, but that eventually turns to apathy and distrust of the criminal justice system and its liberal judges.

Also, to become a police officer is no easy process, at least not for the big city police departments I've worked for. There is an in-depth oral examination that a candidate much score high enough on, an extensive background investigation, a polygraph examination that is now both registered on a scale and videotaped for indicators of deception, and an extensive psychological examination using the MMPI and an interview with a psychologist. Most of the misfits and crazies are weeded out during this process.

It doesn't end there though.

The police candidate must then complete a rigorous, high-stress 6-month police academy where they are daily scrutinized by their training staff without mercy. It's like going through military boot camp but with a whole lot more academics included (e.g., legal procedures, Constitutional law, patrol tactics, firearms, etc.). More misfits, crazies and unfit for the job types are weeded out during this stage.

It doesn't end yet.

Finally, upon graduation, the candidate must endure a 16-week Field Training Program that tests what they've learned in the academy with real-world situations. Each and every day the candidate must be evaluated on a Daily Observation Report with both the good and bad noted. Many FTO's are merciless too. This is a difficult stage because the stress is enormous, and there are no safety nets as in the police academy. The new officer either makes it or he or she doesn't. If the new officer is an oddball, unable to deal with stress well, heavy-handed, he or she will be 'counseled' or likely asked to resign from their position. In today's politically-correct police environment, problem children are not tolerated for very long like perhaps they used to be years earlier.

But it doesn't end yet.

The new officer, upon completion of the rigorous FTO program, will be placed on probation for the next year or two and can be terminated at will with no civil protections to keep his job. The new officer has to especially keep his or her butt clean during this period.

So, any notion among some folks that police departments will take anyone just isn't true. Again, the heavy-handed, the social oddballs or weirdos, the creeps, and the 'Tackleberry' types either get rejected during the early stages of the process or their 'conduct' becomes known and that's when Internal Affairs investigations begin. Cops who abuse people or who barely comply with the law themselves are eventually discovered. Their careers almost always end short. They are the exception and not the norm.

John Craig said...

Ambrose --
Thank you very much for that long description of what it takes to become cop these days. You make a great case for how and why the percentage of sociopaths in police departments is a lot lower these days. In fact, you've got me thinking about the examples I can come up with of obviously sociopathic cops, and the ones I know of were in many cases older, i.e., roughly my age, meaning, they would have gotten onto the force back before police departments had sophisticated methods for weeding the misfits out. (The two who came to mind were Drew Peterson, the Illinois cop I mentioned in this post, and James Burke, the former Suffolk County Police Chief I wrote about in December, who stymied the FBI's investigation into the Gilgo Beach serial killings on Long Island; both of them are around my age, meaning, they didn't have to go through that screening process.) Then again, Michael Slager, whom I also mentioned in this post, was considerably younger; he slipped through.

Also, thanks for confirming that the MMPI is used; I hadn't realized that an interview with a psychologist and a polygraph were required as well. It's reassuring to know that most police have to go through such rigorous training; I have to imagine, though, that while that's true of all big city departments these days, there are some small town police departments where that kind of training -- and screening -- does not take place.

As far as the callousness that you describe that sets in over time, I've always thought, that as a cop, it would be impossible not to develop a cynical attitude, given all the lowlives you'd have to deal with. (And it would also be nearly impossible not to see young black men as the enemy, given what a high percentage of street crime they commit; experience can be a harsh teacher.)

Anyway, great feedback, thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Primary vs secondary sociopathy. I have a problem. We moved to retire on an acre in a peaceful wooded community. There's a neighboring couple who have both retired from some sort of law enforcement, ie: police/sheriff. They are abusive in using their former positions of power and connections in a sneaky, underhanded way and it's maddening! I don't think they are potential serial killers or violent just seriously rude and they definitely fit the "acquired" sociopathic rotten spoke syndrome.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Coincidentally, someone was just telling me two days ago about a cop who fits that bill. And evidently his wife is similar. In fact, this guy is one of the two I was referring to in the second paragraph of this post. I was told that he is widely disliked by the other police in his department, and is even known as an extremely difficult personality to the police where he lives (in a different town).

So, I sympathize with you for having a next door neighbor like that. My guess is they're sticklers about everyone else obeying the absolute letter of the law, and complain every time leaves from your property are blown by the wind onto their property, that sort of thing. I know the type. All you can do is just do your best to avoid them. (You should read about Denis Rader, the BTK killer, who wasn't a police officer, but in his capacity as municipal something-or-other, was incredibly officious and overbearing and loved hassling all the local homeowners for various minor infractions.)

I'm sticking to my original thesis, though, which is that the vast majority of cops are decent guys.

Anonymous said...

I'm just posting here to note that IA departments have rejection rates upwards of 70% nationally. Ambrose is either idealistic and blind or narcissistic and delusional; to state that "Cops who abuse people or who barely comply with the law themselves are eventually discovered. Their careers almost always end short. They are the exception and not the norm." is beyond an average level of ignorance.

I know from experience this just isn't true, both in what has happened to me and what I've seen happen to others. The problem is that unscrupulous officers will reverse a situation to make those they abuse look as if they somehow deserved it - this is the exact behavior that narcissists and sociopaths behave in outside the police.

The problem is that it's a circlejerk, and as long as cops are judged by people who dismiss the vast majority of complaints that are brought to them, they are like a knight caste that will never treat others as equals in any way.