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Confronting the sociopath

 Most police officers come into contact with seemingly normal people who are caught up in extraordinary circumstances. One of the archetypes that a tactical officer must be mindful of is that among the normal folks are those known as sociopaths. This is a person who has no regard for societal norms and might be referred to by the spiritually-minded as not having a conscience. Outside of prison walls, it is estimated that 1 in 25 US residents are sociopaths.

The overwhelming majority of criminals, by their nature, are sociopaths; some psychologists estimate that more than 75% of the US prison population is composed of sociopaths who have no respect for the rule of law, the lives of others or anything beyond their own immediate gratification.

Newhall incident

On April 6, 1970, four California Highway Patrol officers were murdered in a 4 minute gun battle with 2 sociopaths near Newhall, California. This incident was a watershed event for police training mostly due to an urban legend which persisted for more than 30 years, stating that the CHP officers were mistakenly ejecting live shotgun shells and policing empty brass during the fight.

However one thing is true, the officers who ordered the criminals out of the vehicle were not used to being disobeyed due to their "command presence". As a result, Officers Gore and Frag did not conduct a felony stop and call the armed robbery suspects out from a position of cover. They calmly walked up as if they had pulled a motorist over for speeding. The result was the bad guys erupted from the car with guns blazing, killing the two officers and then murdering Officers Alleyen and Pence who, as they arrived as backup, immediately came under fire. It was simply not being ready to deal with sociopaths which cost these officers their lives, not any bad habits picked up at a shooting range.

Identifying a sociopath

The clinical diagnosis of a sociopath occurs when an individual possesses at least three of the following characteristics: 

  • A failure to conform to social norms
  • Extremely deceitful and/or manipulative
  • Impulsive, failure to plan ahead
  • Constant irritability or aggressiveness
  • Blatant and reckless disregard for the safety of self or others
  • Consistent irresponsibility
  • Complete lack of remorse after having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another person.

When most of us think of a sociopath we picture a tattooed gang member weighing 300 pounds and standing almost seven feet tall. Yet, that image does not fit most sociopaths. Consider some of the high profile serial killers who lured or conned their victims into a false sense of security. This is where the manipulative aspect of the sociopath plays a role in their self-preservation.

When it’s time to not be nice

When it comes to a confrontation, command presence or bearing only gets you 90% of the way there. Sociopaths are predators that know how to look for weaknesses and by the time they are confronting a police officer, they have had a lifetime of perfecting their craft. 

The answer is to perfect your own craft and to train religiously with all of the tools at your disposal. Then, when that moment of truth comes, be ready to release it when command presence and bearing are simply not enough. Respond to the threat with an overwhelming display of force and violence of action.

While your profession may be about protecting the public and maintaining order, in the end your job is to go home to your family.


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