There are several important signs to help police officers recognize the possibility that they are dealing with a psychopath.
1.Review the arrest record. Psychopaths’ rap sheets will reflect a variety of crimes. Because of their immature need for immediate gratification, these persons’ crimes are extremely unpredictable. Unlike other criminals, who tend to develop a specialty and stick with it, psychopaths may commit a variety of crimes that range from sodomy to armed robbery and murder. Further, when they commit a crime they may not hesitate to kill non-resisting victims or witnesses just to experience the sensation of killing.
2. Police officers must develop the ability to recognize con men’s glib style of conversation. Coupled with psychopaths’ inability to follow through or engage in any behavior that is not self-seeking, this should tip off police officers to the kind of person they are dealing with.
3. If police officers find themselves excessively liking or hating a suspect who is being interviewed, that person might be a psychopath. From training and experience, most professionals will develop a professional attitude toward those with whom they come in contact. Generally, there are those whom they like, those whom they do not like, and even some toward whom they are indifferent. However, a person who gets them so irritated that they tend to lose their professionalism, or who stimulates them to rescue him or her, is possibly a psychopath.
4. Police officers should very carefully consider as a possible psychopath the criminal who is able to involve many people in his or her behavior, crimes, and rescue. Cases presented in this chapter did not involve the psychopath alone.
5. Well-integrated and functioning psychopaths can usually beat a lie detector (polygraph), or at least produce an inconclusive result (Reese 1987). The polygraph measures certain physiological correlates of anxiety and guilt, such as skin response, blood pressure, pulse, and respiration; it is an “emotional detective.” If the test subject feels guilty or anxious about certain questions, there will be disturbances in the polygraphic pattern. However, since psychopaths are often immune to feelings of guilt and anxiety unless placed under severe stress, these physiological disturbances are not likely to appear, even when they respond to questions that might make the normal person feel guilt or anxiety.
6. Speech is often used to conceal thoughts. This is certainly true of psychopaths. They are completely capable of responding to vague questions with vague answers and to concrete questions with concrete answers. In this way, they are often able to persuade themselves that they are telling the truth. For example, if an officer asks a psychopathic suspect a vague question such as “What did you do after leaving Los Angeles?” he may reply that he took a plane to Denver. He conveniently omits his stopover in Las Vegas, where he participated in three armed robberies, or in Tucson, where he committed two rapes. As another example, if the officer asks him if he has ever been in jail before, he may answer “No!” since he can rationalize that the officer is talking about this particular jail. However, he may have been in several other jails and/or a state or federal penitentiary. Unless specifically asked, he will conclude, with proper justification to himself, that he has not lied in answering the question. Consequently, it is easy to become discouraged when interviewing psychopaths. It may often be necessary to repeat the question several times and formulate it in different ways. Only persistent and careful questioning will elicit the necessary information. However, if this procedure is done with hostility, psychopaths are likely to clam up and not respond to further questioning.
7. It is important not to bluff psychopaths. They are masters of bluffing and are certainly better than most officers. The best way to interview psychopaths is to prepare carefully by knowing every detail of the case.
8. It is important to be firm and clear with suspected psychopaths. Police officers should say exactly what they mean and set appropriate limits on a subject’s actions. These tactics are critical to effective handling of psychopaths. Although psychopaths can be very charming, they can also make officers very angry and may maneuver officers into a situation in which they violate the suspects’ rights. Avoid this possibility.
Differences between Lawbreakers and Psychopaths
While it is true that many criminals show some evidence of psychopathic behavior, there are important differences between ordinary lawbreakers and psychopaths.
1. Ordinary lawbreakers are most often motivated by what their crime will net them, whether it is $25,000 from a bank robbery or another profitable venture. Psychopaths, on the other hand, often steal things for which they have no particular use. They may forge a check for a small amount when they have more than that in their pockets.
2. Ordinary lawbreakers seek to avoid detection and apprehension. Psychopaths do likewise for a period of time, but if they go undetected for too long, they may commit foolish crimes and leave telltale clues behind that tend to ensure apprehension.
3. Ordinary lawbreakers will avoid the police and not volunteer to help them solve crimes. On the other hand, psychopaths often see their criminal activities as a game between themselves and the police and are often detected in this way. For example, journalist Ann Rule (1986) wrote about Ted Bundy: “His cunning jousts with police were always akin to Dungeons and Dragons, and he so delighted in outwitting them, watching them scurry around to do what he considered his bidding.”
4. Ordinary lawbreakers generally maintain some creed of loyalty to friends, family, or even to their opposition to society. However, psychopaths are uncommitted, with loyalty to no one and no sincerely held attitudes for or against anything.
Written By: Bruce A. Rodgers, PhD
Bruce Rodgers holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Texas State University, formerly Southwest Texas State University and a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Psychology from The University of Denver. He has served for over 16 years as a police officer, federal agent and police administrator. The author is a certified police officer in two states and is a graduate of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia.
He has received specialized training in mental health assessment, crisis intervention and hostage negotiation. The author is a certified law enforcement training officer and field interrogation specialist. He is a member of The American Psychological Association, The Society for Theoretical and Scientific Psychology (Division 24), The American Police Psychology Association and the Fraternal Order of Police.