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March 15, 2005
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Dr. Dorothy McCoy Maintaining Your Mental Edge
with Dr. Dorothy McCoy

Interrogating the psychopath (Part 1)

Why should you become familiar with psychopaths? They have an unfortunate tendency to commit crimes.

Recently, psychopathy was measured in a sample of sex offenders serving sentences in a mental institution in Massachusetts. Researchers Dr. R. A. Prentky and Dr. R. A. Knight reported that the incidence of psychopathy was 25 percent in a pedophile sample and 40 percent in a rapist sample. The relationship between psychopathy and sex offending therefore has important assessment and treatment implications. Researchers have only recently turned to this important area for investigation (Peters, R & Barbaree, H).

Now, let's talk about how you interview the psychopath after you have identified him or her.

To enhance rapport-building skills, law enforcement personnel should practice facial expressions, body language and verbal responses that will encourage and relax the subject. It is important to convey understanding and willingness to listen, to give the subject "license" to talk, to vent.

The psychopath generally has above-average intelligence, is cunning and can often outsmart others, so it would be detrimental to take a premature approach to this interview.

The interrogator must be thoroughly familiar with the case. An experienced interrogator is needed. One that will not react emotionally to whatever the subject might say. Professional attire is necessary so that a sense of authority, a commanding presence will be communicated. For at least the beginning of the interview, address the subject by using a title of respect such as Mr. or Ms. It is better to ask open-ended questions so that the subject is given plenty of opportunity to talk.

Psychopaths like to be the center of attention. They know they are smart and will want others to know that as well. If they are caught in a discrepancy, they will probably disregard or ignore it and continue. They may attempt to shock the interrogator and, if cornered, may attack verbally or become emotional.

The interviewer should act as though he or she is learning from the subject. If given the information and asked for their opinion, they may give evidence or even confess, though this confession may be in the third person. These clever individuals may be able to see through a bluff, so if this tactic is used, great care must be taken. Psychopaths may do well on polygraph tests and may even convince the interviewer of their innocence.

It can be very difficult, even for professionals, to differentiate between a narcissistic individual and a psychopath. There is no reason he cannot be both. Not to mention INTJs (see last month's article).

Much like the psychopath is the narcissistic personality. Interview tactics are similar. This individual likes to be noticed and wants to be center-stage. Professional attire is recommended because the subject will perceive that they are speaking with someone as important as they are. They respond well to compliments and like to be told they are important, that they are intelligent, that they have the ability to carry out the crime. Ask them for their side. This will keep them talking.

Make comments that show understanding and positively re-enforce their participation in the interview with words and gestures. They are very concerned with looking good and want to be perceived in a positive light, but will also want to know what is in it for them. If cornered, there may be crocodile tears and emotional theatrics. Don't criticize. Even the smallest perceived slight may cause the interview to veer off course. It is advised to review the information about the case with the subject. Then ask for his or her slant on it.

Ask, "What would you do?" or, "Can you help me figure this out?" These techniques should get results. It sounds like Colombo, doesn't it. Again, they are normally intelligent individuals.

If you are not certain how to handle the interview, your police psychologist may be able to help you. If you are unsure of yourself they will detect it. Never doubt it, they are supremely self-assured. If you are not careful you will end up loaning your car to him or her ... they are exceptionally convincing.

For more information go to www.scetv.org/crimetocourt/Special%20Pages/personality2.htm


About the author

PoliceOne columnist Dr. Dorothy McCoy has been in private practice as a clinical counselor for 10 years. She is a diplomate with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and a law enforcement consultant. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (in North and South Carolina).





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