July 15, 2024
Interviewing and Interrogating a Psychopath

If you are in law enforcement, you WILL encounter psychopaths, whether you patrol the streets or serve within an investigative unit. They account for roughly 1{43188a7dd839b6435400250daa1cfd1f7fa6a9f2f74b5d47d7c17eef7596ad2a} of the population but they are 10 to 20 times as likely to be involved in criminal activity. So, what are the characteristics of a psychopath and how should you interview them?

In general they lack remorse, the may have aggressive and violent tendencies, and they are often referred to as “cold-blooded” due to the fact they lack empathy for other people. They have grandiose ideals about themselves and they like to be the center of attention and often come across very confident and charming, which they use in deceptive and manipulative ways, even with law enforcement investigators during interviews and interrogations! In fact, they often feel it’s a challenge for them to outwit the interviewer and pull one over on them.

They are good at faking emotions and they do know right from wrong but they simply don’t care about rules and they just want what they want and they are willing to lie, cheat and steal their way there.

When interviewing a psychopath, normal or typical approaches will likely fail due in large part to their ego and lack of empathy. One of the best steps is to PREPARE in detail. Know the crime, the crime scene, the evidence and witness information, understand the victim and their background as well as the psychopath’s background, including any prior arrests or previous interviews, their family history and mental health record and on and on. Prepare, prepare, prepare! This will put you in a much stronger position in their eyes. This is important because a lack of knowledge or a lack of preparation on part of the interviewer will appear as a weakness and they will use that as an advantage during the interview.

Psychopaths are comfortable during interviews and will frequently lie, twist stories, and fabricate information to a maddening degree, but if you lose your cool during the interview or interrogation and take an aggressive or confrontational approach, they know they have you! Keep your cool and keep on track, and keep them talking by stroking their ego.

Often if you appeal to their personal sense of high self-esteem, their intelligence, wit and skill at pulling off the crime, getting over on the victim or out-smarting the police, they will be more likely to keep talking. Be impressed by them! Also, keep it interesting because they can become disinterested quite easily. Use multiple interviewers strategically, use photos, videos, drawings, etc. to keep their interest. A long drawn out monologue will tune them out so figure out how to keep them engaged.

Taking a moral or ethical approach, or explaining the consequences of their actions will not work because they don’t care and they don’t feel responsibility for their actions. They will lie simply to feel superior to the person and to get away with it, and they don’t feel nervous or guilty when lying either so they will not exhibit behavior indicative of deception.

Your primary goal should be to keep them talking, stroke their ego and let their story build up so you gain more information and insight into them and about the crime, and eventually there will be so many contradictions and their lies will be more apparent.

Your approach to the interview or interrogation and your attitude must be confident and in control so don’t play Columbo, the absent-minded detective, because they see this as a weakness and will certainly take advantage of it. Knowing the crime scene forwards and backwards is crucial too, this way you can point out where the psychopath went wrong and the mistakes they made. This will likely annoy them because they have such a high perception of their intelligence and competence and they will argue the point and in so doing, they may reveal more information which will assist your investigation.

You can try to bond and connect with them, but don’t expect a true emotional connection or rapport. Keep them talking and focus on them, their account of the story, their information and activities, because the most important topic for them is themselves and their intelligence, so keep at it and stroke their ego.

Their persuasiveness, charm and cunning can mask their true intent and feelings, and they are skilled at using body-language effectively and masking emotions. This is how they manipulate and take advantage of their victims, and it’s also how they manipulate and take advantage of investigators during interviews and interrogations. However, pay attention to their language and the words they use, as this can give them away. If you keep them talking they will provide verbal clues which will lead you to the truth, because even though they lie without concern or guilt, they do know the truth about what happened and often their words will betray them, so keep them talking!

Because they are so self-involved, they often may use “I”, “me” and “my” words more than most people, so parrot that back to them and focus on them as well. Also, when talking about emotional incidents they will likely be flat and emotionless with no change in tone or inflection in their voice, simply because they don’t feel or experience it, so don’t try to appeal to their emotions as this approach will fail.

The bottom line is to plan and prepare your interview approach in detail, have confidence and be in control of the interview process, focus on them and stroke their ego, keep them engaged and keep them talking and really listen to the words they use and above all, be safe and pay attention, because psychopaths do have violent tendencies and shift quite quickly at any moment. It’s certainly a challenge for an investigator to interview a psychopath, but with the right mindset and a proper tactical approach to the interview or interrogation, you can have a successful outcome.