Given the recent spat of high-profile police murders of PoC, we’ve had an increase in the discussion of the bad apple theory of police murderers. On the one hand, we have the usual police defenders (whiter, more conservative commentators) saying not all cops, and the cool kids saying down it is the system, not the cop. Trevor Noah perhaps said it best by claiming that the whole apple tree is rotten. The braintrust here at Ye Olde Blogge began to wonder about the role of psychopathy in police murders of PoC.
Who doesn’t love them some psychopathy talk? There are TV shows glamorizing the violent serial psychopathic murderers and TV shows that glamorize the violent serial psychopathic murder who preys upon violent serial psychopathic murderers. There’s been lots of speculation about which of our politicians are psychopaths. Ye Olde Blogge has contributed its fair share to this speculation. So, it should be unsurprising that we’re taking this deep dive into psychopathy and its relationship to criminality and violence in an attempt to speculate about its relationship to police murderers like Derek Chauvin.
In an FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin report in 2012, psychopathy was defined as “a personality disorder that includes a cluster of interpersonal, affective, lifestyle, and antisocial traits and behaviors.“ Those four traits and behaviors have been identified as being the core of the psychopathic personality.
Regular readers might recognize some of these traits in our discussions of Trump, Mitch McConnell, Jared Kushner, and Brett Kavanaugh. As we’ve found out from those posts, there is a life-course persistent pattern of antisocial behavior that exists among those with personality disorders. It is driven by egocentrism, which in tern fuels their need for power and control.
The thing that distinguishes psychopaths from their other personality disordered brethren is their bend towards criminality. That said, there are two caveats to bear in mind: (1) like most mental health disorders, psychopathy exists on a continuum of severity and (2) psychopathy is not a real diagnosis as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by mental health professionals to diagnose people. In the manuals fifth addition, it is listed as one of five dimensions that personality disorders can be described with, so you can be an antisocial personality disorder with psychopathic features. That’s as close as you can get for being a diagnosed psychopath.
- poor behavioral controls;
- stimulation seeking;
- shallow affect;
- lack of empathy, guilt, or remorse;
- sexual promiscuity;
- callous disregard for the rights of others; and
- unethical and antisocial behaviors.
Researchers rely on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist – Revised (PCL-R) and its derivations are now the gold standard for diagnosing psychopathy. The PCL-R is a twenty-question interview that is interpreted by a professional and also utilizes other documented evidence to come up with a diagnosis. The derivations are used with either sub-populations like adolescence or non-incarcerated populations.
What post on psychopathy would be complete without links to tests that YOU can take to determine whether YOU are a psychopath? Ye Olde Blogge has those quizzes just like some kind of common Cosmo or 17, so click the links for a quick quiz for you and a test on the Dark Triad, one of which is psychopathy. If you take the tests, let us know how they turn out in the comments, okay? FUN, right? I’m infrequently vile and not a psychopath.
Throughout the literature on psychopathy — and there is an extensive set of literature both professional and in the popular media — there are references to the connection between criminality and psychopathy. The FBI estimates that 15 to 20% of our incarcerated population are psychopaths. That’s 15 to 20% of 2 million+ people, 90% of whom are men. Compare that with an estimated one percent of the population being a diagnosable psychopath. Remember, those are the ones who were caught and successfully prosecuted. Because psychopaths can be charming and manipulative, they often get out of charges or receive reduced sentences.
Studies suggest that diagnoses with psychopathy strongly predicts criminality and recidivism. In fact, psychopathy is a paradigm for conceptualizing serious, violent, and chronic criminality. DeLisi believes that psychopathy is “the unified theory of delinquency and criminal and the purest explanation of antisocial behavior” (emphasis, mine). As such, we should be interpreting murderous police behavior through the lens of psychopathy.
Violent Criminal Psychopathy
When psychopaths commit violent crime, though, they tend to be very calculated and goal driven. Crimes are passion are not usually committed by psychopaths in spite of claims after being caught. The violence of psychopaths is due to desires for power, control, or sadistic gratification. When we’re considering psychopathic murderous cops, this is a point well-worth remembering. Seriously, reflect on Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck for nine and a half minutes.
Consider these other points about the criminality of psychopaths:
- Not all psychopaths are created equally. Some of the four traits are more likely to lead to criminal conduct.
- The four are interpersonal, affective, lifestyle, and antisocial.
- Traits like impulsivity, lack of empathy, and grandiosity correlates with increased criminal behavior.
- Interpersonal traits include a grandiose sense of self worth.
- Affective traits include a lack of empathy.
- Lifestyle traits include impulsivity and stimulus seeking.
- Some environments should discourage delinquent behavior like being responsible for enforcing the law, but psychopathy predicts the antisocial behavior that is committed in those environments.
- Psychopathic offenders
- commit both more offenses and more types of offenses.
- are more likely to engage in institutional misbehavior — you know breaking the rules at work.
- are more likely to have committed instrumental violence at some point in their criminal careers.
- are more likely to be reoffend once released from incarceration and do so more quickly, severely, and commit more types of crime.
- resist therapy more than other offenders (they are more difficult to rehabilitate).
- are motivated by revenge and retribution more than other offenders.
- are less likely to be more emotional when they committed their crimes than non-psychopaths.
- Psychopathy correlates with the use of instrumental violence in spousal abuse.
Psychopathy and Police Offenders
If we think about various incidents in which the police murder an unarmed Black person, we might could begin to speculate about which incidents involved a psychopath and which did not. So, let’s consider the following:
- Since psychopaths are the most likely to reoffend and escalate their offenses (past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, after all), officers with a record of violence, bullying, and antisocial behavior whether on the job or not, should be suspect. It is the best argument for a national registry of police misconduct and denying a officers the ability of resigning after an incident and just moving on to another police department.
- Because psychopaths are more likely to be recidivists, escalate their criminality, and don’t respond to therapeutic intervention, careful attention should be paid to a pattern of minor infractions that are followed by more serious infractions.
- The state of mind of the officer at the time of the infraction should be carefully evaluated. All officers will claim to be in fear of their lives when they murder an unarmed Black person. It is their magical get out of jail free card, but there are some who are more emotionally distraught and those who are less at the time of the shooting. Let’s review some examples:
- Chauvin, obviously, was not emotionally distraught and has a long history of multiple offenses.
- Kim Potter was “shook” when she shot Daunte Wright. She shouldn’t’ve been, but it is clear from the tenor of her voice that she was.
- Pantaleo clearly murdered Eric Gardner. It was a death that was easily prevented and didn’t have to be.
- Slager clearly murdered Walter Scott by shooting him in the back as he fled and planting his taser on him.
- Timothy Loehmann shot Tamir Rice within seconds of arrival on the scene. He had no time for emotional arousal, no time to evaluate the situation, and had a long history of serious offenses across multiple police jurisdictions.
- Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown from a safe distance. Was he emotionally distraught after an encounter at his squad car window? Was it revenge and retribution for having humiliated him in that encounter? It is hard to see how he feared for his life in that situation, and he had a history of complaints against him.
- Freddie Gray’s — the police used their paddy wagon to beat him to death during a “rough” ride — was callous and malicious. The officers involved had no empathy for his welfare.
When you hear about a police officer killing a Black person, you have to ask yourself three questions:
- How emotionally aroused was the officer at the time of the killing? The lower the arousal level, the more likely the officer is a dangerous psychopath.
- Does the officer have a history of complaints against him or her? The more complaints, the more likely the officer is a dangerous psychopath.
- Does the officer have a history of using violence, the threat of violence, or intimidation to achieve goals? This violence can be domestic violence, off-duty incidents, or incidents prior to becoming a police officer.
Clearly, when we talk about reforming police, the role of psychopathy in police abuse of force must be part of the discussion. The presence of a charming manipulative psychopath on a police force can corrupt other officers much in the same way disparagement humor can encourage biased behavior from those who overhear it. These officers brag about their exploits and violations of the rules. They encourage others to do so, too.
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Categories: Antisocial Personality Disorder