Walter Scott is the most recent unarmed black man to be shot and killed by a white policeman. While the Walter Scott shooting was similar to the other shootings, it was different in one important way. Unlike the other black men, a videotape seems to show, more unequivocally than the other deaths that were videotaped, that the shooting was an execution (“Thousands Dead, Few Prosecuted,” Kimberly Kindy and Kimbrielli Kelly, Washington Post, April 11, 2015). The similarity to other killings and the depraved indifference evident in the videotape introduces the possibility that sociopathy is also a cause of these killings.
If some of the policemen who kill unarmed black men are in fact sociopaths, then it may be time to study them so that a psychological profile of any sociopaths can be developed. For example, in the late 70’s, agents in the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit started visiting prisons to interview serial killers and rapists to understand “what leads a person to become sexual offender and what are the early warning signals” and “what serves to encourage or to inhibit the commission of his offense.”
While it may be hard to obtain information from police officers who have shot and killed unarmed black men because most of them have neither been convicted nor are in prison and could face the loss of their jobs and respect, these police officers need to be studied. One of the FBI’s findings from their study of serial killers was that these offenders were often enamored with law enforcement and frequently had tried to become policemen or worked in related fields (i.e., security, etc.) because it afforded them the opportunity to be respected and to hurt people. Although most police departments subject their applicants to psychological testing to exclude sociopaths, the predictive accuracy of these tests is either unknown or low. In light of the attraction of sociopaths to policing and gaps in knowledge about police officers who kill unarmed black men, the role of sociopathy in these killings is unknown.
Despite the pundits and politicians who claim that “99.9 percent of police officers are good,” many of these same pundits and politicians, as well as policing experts, believe that structural reforms, such as more “community policing” and “less militarization” are widely needed to improve the U.S. system of policing. To the extent that systemic policing reforms are needed, then many police departments may act as a mill for producing bad police officers. Ninety-nine percent of the police officers in “bad” departments, following “bad” procedures, cannot be “good.”
Failure to address the combination of sociopathic officers and police departments in need of reform, is potentially explosive situation that may have already led to some deaths. A first step defusing this situation is considering the linkage between the shootings of unarmed black men that have occurred across the country and studying the perpetrators of those shootings to determine if there are underlying causes.
A Darker Shade of Blue: From Public Servant to Professional Deviant; Policing's Special Operations Cultureby L. Scott Silverii
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