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Police Executives And The Potential For Organizational Psychopathy.

Nov 01

G’day all!  As has become our routine, I would like to tip your Stetson (well earned, and still respected in many quarters, I might add) to our foreign visitors.  I note that they continue to attend the blog in significant numbers and hesitate to contribute.  I encourage them to “throw in” and ensure them of our ability to preserve their anonymity.

It seems that our latest couple of offerings on the illusion of what has come to be labelled as PTSD (my comments are meant in no way to discount your personal pain/suffering, but to suggest that it may be nothing more than a normal human response to an entirely “abnormal situation”) have stimulated great interest.  Our daily readership has soared, but as you can see very few comments.  I encourage you to come forward with your thoughts.  Who knows, it could be cathartic for you?  What do you think of this latest “injury vs. disorder” distinction?  If you have become interested in it then “riddle me this”…….with regard to the injury argument, what’s broke?……..how do you know (i.e. how to diagnose)?…….what is the “mind”?…….can it be put in a cast, stitched, operated on?…….ah yes, it can be prescribed medications.

Enough of that and to the topic at hand.  When you think of psychopaths, you probably think of the likes of Clifford Robert Olsen or “Willy” Picton; and Theodore “Ted” Bundy to cite an American example.  (Out of curiosity, are these people injured or disordered, “what’s broke”. do they suffer from PTSD after committing their horrendous acts, if not why not, once again what is a “human mind”, not so simple huh?).  While you are correct to identify the previously noted individuals as psychopathic in their behaviour, there is another body of research that appears to have introduced a more accurate view of psychopathy.  This thinking has its’ roots in the work of the brilliant Canadian researcher, Robert Hare; the noted expert on psychopathy.  One recent offering (Dutton) suggests that some of the traits of the criminal psychopath are also found in the executive board room of many organizations, including the boardroom of your police service!  Moreover, “organizational psychopathy” is not uncommon among politicians, world leaders and successful executives of many powerful organizations.  This should not come as a surprise to you, and I’m sure you would agree that much misery and havoc has been wreaked upon the general membership that originated in that room!!

As I outline a series of traits commonly found in the profiles of “criminal psychopaths”, you may recognize some of them as being manifested in the profiles of police executives that you have worked with; e.g. a grandiose sense of self worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, a lack of remorse, and the ability to manipulate others ( c’mon this is too easy for you RCMP members!!).

Another body of work (Bobiak et al.) argues that while these psychopaths may not be ideally suited to traditional work environments, they compensate with other skills.  They may lack the ability to develop healthy interpersonal relationships, while compensating for this with a keen ability to “read” others, and an uncanny ability to influence/persuade others; all in an effort to disguise their psychopathology.  The extant research suggests that the level of organizational psychopathy among executives of all stripes (including police executives) may range from 3-25% of the population in question.  Compare this with the 1% of “criminal psychopaths” in the general population.

Hare has listed characteristics common to “organizational psychopaths”:

I) anti-social characteristics

  • irresponsibility
  • impulsivity
  • poor behavioural control
  • need for stimulation
  • promiscuous sexual behavioural (which one of you giggled?????)
  • criminal versatility
  • parasitic lifestyle

ii) aggressive narcissism

* superficial charm

*grandiose sense of self worth

*pathological lying

* manipulation

* lack of remorse/guilt

* emotionally shallow

* lack of empathy

* failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions

A fascinating body of work out of evolutionary biology (e.g. Sun) suggests that these “organizational psychopaths” thrive in society as they have developed the skills necessary to avoid capture, arrest, conviction, and incarceration.  It is important to understand that both types of psychopath are dangerous.  However, “organizational psychopaths” specialize in verbal aggression, deception and emotional abuse rather than physical aggression.

It has been hypothesized that these organizational types avoid detection and arrest by ingratiating themselves with the “right people” while preying upon those with little power.  They take credit for the good work of others and manifest an ingenious mix of fear and sympathy to obfuscate their psychopathic behaviour.

One management guru refers to these organizational-types as “psychopath-lite” (de Vries).  They don’t often find themselves in the Criminal Justice System and instead, as we have seen, thrive in organizational settings.  You will find them wherever power, status, or money is in play. We have all experienced the egocentric executive who talks of him/herself endlessly, constantly seeks the limelight, and is oblivious to the rights/needs of others.  Moreover, while charming on the surface they remain cunning, hostile, and domineering beneath.  They view their victims as nothing more than stepping stones, or opportunities to greater things.  It seems that dominating their victims is not enough as they seek to humiliate them ( c’mon this isn’t even a challenge for you RCMP members?).  For this type of psychopath, the ends always justify the means.  The “organizational psychopath” shows little or no concern for the physical or mental health of employees as there is always a line-up to enter the organization.

Interestingly this personality disorder is over represented in politics, law enforcement, the legal profession, business, the military, and medicine.  Additionally, the identifiers would seem bizarre in any other context.  Yet the ruthlessness, lack of conscience, success at any price attitude, impression management, risk taking, domination, aggression (short of assault), and extreme competitiveness are highly regarded as necessary for success in the “organizational psychopath’s” world.

Sure, it’s all very interesting but what to do about it?  Well, in the spirit of being the changes you want in the world, GET OFF YOUR ASS AND VOTE YES FOR THE MOUNTED POLICE PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION.  You (RCMP) members are badly in need of labour representation.

“Manage your own expectations”

Dr. Mike Webster

Reg’d Psychologist   (#0655)

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6 Comments
  1. Anonymous permalink

    Yep…all symptoms checked off. This was the person who abused me from the minute I was interviewed for my job. I reported him and I have paid and paid. But now 6 years on I am disfuctional? There are no words.

  2. G'day from Australia permalink

    G’day Mike. Your call to foreign readers has prompted my comment. I’ve read your recent PTSD comments with great interest, as a result of my own history as a police member. In regards to the organizational psychopath commentary above…. wowee I can name a great number of “senior leaders” in my organization that fit the mold!!

  3. Laurie permalink

    Your list of characteristics common to organizational psychopaths left me thinking of Rob Ford LOL!! (among others….)

  4. Aught Buck permalink

    I think that 3-25% is a gross underestimate of the RCMP.

  5. I’d love to see academics from the social sciences (psych, socio, anthro) conduct a thorough study of the culture and mentality of the RCMP. If there’s any graduate students looking for a thesis. This would be a gold mine That this culture exists in a modern democracy, makes it that much more fascinating.

  6. Anonymous permalink

    I would agree 3-25% is an underestimate but at least it’s a percentage thrown out there revealing that “psychopaths” definitely exist in the force, compared to the “1%” in the general population. So i assume this means most of the “1%’ers” (psychos) in the populus join the RCMP.

    On another note, if anyone were to do a thesis on rcmp culture/dynamics/mentality, they would have to be savy enough to look beyond what information was provided to them by members, as the information provided would be to reflect how the “ArseCMP was the greatest thing since sliced bread”…..we all know otherwise. The thesis-writer would need the independence to enter buildings (HQ’s), access to certain operations, and all member complaints from grievances/alternate dispute resolutions/civil court without interference. This person would need to be able to attend those ‘closed door’ meetings where the senior mgmt idiots threaten members to drop their grievances before other actions are taken against them so that the thesis writer can truly observe all actions….but this will never happen because the senior mgmt twats don’t want the public to have any real ‘insight’ as to what REALLY goes on behind the brick-and-mortar cop walls.

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