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Psychopathy: Manipulation, Deception, and Evil

The best definition I have found for a psychopath is “a morally depraved individual who represent the ‘monsters’ in our society; an unstoppable and untreatable predator whose violence is planned, purposeful and emotionless”.  Psychopaths make the headlines daily.  They are the meat and potatoes of our justice system.  Psychopaths are usually not the product of broken homes or the casualties of a materialistic society.  There is no one to blame for their behaviors except themselves. Psychopaths understand right from wrong. They know they are subject to society’s rules, but willingly disregard them to pursue their own interests. They are not out of touch with reality. Their motivation is power, gratification, personal gain, and survival.  Their mindset is manipulation, deception, and evil. Their level of malice is high to very high, even off the charts when they are held accountable. This is what makes the psychopath so dangerous for law enforcement officers and society as a whole.

Law enforcement officers interact with psychopaths routinely.  Think you can spot one? Think again. They are inevitably more intelligent than your average bad guy.  Frequently nothing noteworthy stands out about them, until they are stopped for a crime or a field interview.  Even then, psychopaths are hard to identify.  The less intelligent are already incarcerated or on parole/probation.  The most intelligent have not been caught, and in reality may never be apprehended (for example the Zodiac Killer). 

Frightening Statistics

Approximately 1% of the population is thought to be psychopathic, however:

  • Half of all law enforcement murdered in the line of duty were killed by a psychopath
  • Psychopaths commit more than 50% of all serious crimes
  • 25% of all prisoners are psychopaths
  • Approximately 1 out of 5 persistent domestic abusers are thought to be psychopathic
  • 50% of all serial rapists are thought to be psychopathic.
  • Psychopaths are 7X more likely than other criminals to commit stranger murders; twice as likely to commit other stranger crimes
  • Psychopaths 1 year general crime recidivism rate is 3X more likely than other criminals
  • Psychopaths 1 year violent crime recidivism rate is 4X more likely than other criminals
  • the prevalence rate of psychopathy in the financial services industry is 10%
  • Psychopathic characteristics can be seen in childhood
  • About half of all psychopaths reduce criminal activity by the age of 35-40

The Psychopath

Psychopaths are the worse kinds of narcissists.  They not only disregard society and social cues, they carry this disdain for rules to the extreme, calculating and scheming ruthlessly. They are notoriously callous career criminals. They enjoy what they do, the bottom line is that psychopaths are deliberately, energetically, joyfully evil.

Psychopathy involves poor emotional intelligence and the genuine lack of conscience.  The psychopath rarely remains attached to anyone or anything.  Their lifestyle is consistently predatory; they feel little or no regret or remorse for their behaviors. Psychopaths do need relationships; however, they view people as barriers to their fundamental needs.  Relationships are easily and frequently eliminated. Others are viewed in terms of how they can be used to increase the psychopath’s self-esteem or simply for stimulation.  Most fundamentally, psychopaths value others in terms of their material value.  They are stalkers, rapists, perpetrators of domestic violence, deviant sexual crimes, and they are the serial killers.  They are also CEOs and some would argue they are politicians.  Psychopaths are unable (or unwilling) to control their impulses or to delay gratification. They use rage to control and manipulate others into submission.  Many of them are sadistic; taking true pleasure in inflicting physical, emotional and financial harm to their victims.  Not all psychopaths are law-breakers. However, all psychopaths do engage in antisocial acts such as lying, manipulation, aggression, and cruelty.

Subtypes of Psychopaths

All psychopaths share essentially features but may be referred to as primary  or secondary psychopaths.  Primary psychopaths can frequently control antisocial impulses to suit their own purposes.  They do not respond to punishment, apprehension, stress, or disapproval. They don't follow any life plan, and are simply incapable of experiencing genuine emotions.  Secondary psychopaths are also risk-takers, but are more likely to worry about or feel guilty about things.  They are stress-reactive, worriers, and guilt-prone. They are more impulsive and have more reactive anger and aggression than primary psychopaths.  They live their lives by the lure of temptation.  Both primary and secondary psychopaths can be further subdivided into the distempered or charismatic subtype. 

The most dangerous subtype, is the distempered psychopath. They are most likely to be aggressive and violent, frequently flying into rages.  Distempered psychopaths are predominantly males with strong sexual drives and obsessions (often deviant).  They crave excitement, risk-taking and illicit or illegal indulgence.  An example of this subtype was Jack the Ripper.

The second most dangerous subtype is the charismatic psychopath. These individuals are charming, attractive, and irresistible pathological liars.  This type of psychopath is the fast-talker and the manipulator who possesses an almost demonic ability to persuade others. Basically, they can talk people out of almost everything, including their own lives (religious cult leaders frequently fall in this category).  Charles Manson is a classic example of this subtype. 

Top Twenty Clues that You are Dealing with a Psychopath

  1. glib and superficial charm
  2. grandiose sense of self-worth
  3. for stimulation; pathological lying
  4. cunning and manipulativeness
  5. lack of remorse or guilt
  6. shallow affect
  7. callousness and lack of empathy
  8. envy and jealousy
  9. parasitic lifestyle
  10. poor behavioral controls
  11. promiscuous sexual behavior
  12. early behavior problems
  13. lack of realistic, long-term goals
  14. impulsivity
  15. irresponsibility
  16. failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  17. many short-term marital relationships
  18. juvenile delinquency
  19. revocation of conditional release
  20. criminal versatility

Law Enforcements’ Interaction with the Psychopath

FBI studies indicate that over 80% of officers killed in the line of duty were killed by individuals with personality disorders.  While 56% percent of these killers had an antisocial personality disorder; 44% had psychopathology characteristics.  Psychopaths are inherently dangerous.

Remember, you cannot spot a psychopath.  When you encounter one, they will at first seem overly cooperative and friendly towards you.  Meanwhile, they are sizing you noting every detail; your physical, intellectual and moral capabilities while trying to lull you into a false sense of security.  They may invade your personal space just to see how you react. 

Psychopaths are evasive when you make contact, they will attempt to control the conversation.  Once they have a sense on what kind of person you are, they will attempt to manipulate you; they are highly skilled in this regard.  When confronted they will deny any involvement in illegal activities pointing the finger towards someone else.  If that doesn’t work, plan B is to rationalize the crime and offer their own interpretations of the laws that you believe were violated.  Although they are well versed in the laws of society, they truly don’t believe these laws apply to them. They have absolutely no remorse for the crimes they have committed against others, and will only express regret as a way to manipulate an officer in hopes that the justice system will go easier on them.  Fundamentally, psychopaths represent the greatest danger to officer safety.  If an arrest is eminent, and the psychopath believes he can get away with violence, he will resort to it.  This can be an instantaneous reaction, often catching the law enforcement officer off guard.

Psychopaths are indifferent to the truth, they are pathologic liars.  At best, as an officer, you will get half truths in an attempt to confuse and manipulate you into casting doubt on their involvement.  They will evade your questions, claim forgetfulness, and provide you with vague and inconsistent answers about their past.  Even when cornered the psychopath will offer excuses, apologies, and then simply return to his pathologic lying.


There is no cure for psychopathology.  No medications.  Therapy is inevitably counterproductive. Psychopaths forced into counseling frequently get worse as they learn how to use psychology to manipulate the world and the people around them even more. Traditional therapy may in fact cause the psychopath to offend more often, with more malice, and sooner than the psychopath who does not receive treatment. For the most heinous psychopaths society’s treatment of choice is either life sentences or the death penalty, as was the case for some of the most prolific cases: John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Edmund Kemper, Richard Raminrez, Dr. Harold Shipman, and Aileen Wuornos. 


About The Author:

Pamela Kulbarsh, RN, BSW has been a psychiatric nurse for over 25 years. She has worked with law enforcement in crisis intervention for the past ten years. She has worked in patrol with officers and deputies as a member of San Diego's Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) and at the Pima County Detention Center in Tucson. Pam has been a frequent guest speaker related to psychiatric emergencies and has published articles in both law enforcement and nursing magazines.