Not All Deviant Minds Think Alike

Torture.  Grisly murders. Sexual deviance. Serial crimes. It’s like a train wreck. We can’t look away. That’s how many of us react when we are glued to the big screen. Take for instance the movie, “Silence of the Lambs.” Who didn’t cling to every word uttered from Anthony Hopkins?  In 1991, it was a cutting edge movie of its times with a look inside the mind of a serial killer or two. It shocked us. It grossed us out. Maybe it scared some. But many raved about it. Others hated it. It drew out a plethora of mixed emotions. All of these were and are natural responses to behavior and fetishes we cannot fathom. An ordinary individual’s imagination does not linger that far into evil darkness. At least, not “most” imaginations. Law enforcement handle the exceptions.

Deviant behavior is that activity or deportment which violates social norms and expectations, largely shocking the conscience in some cases. Police are fascinated by cases where suspects and/or victims delve into aberrant ways. The public is equally engrossed with the abnormal conduct. Maybe civilians are not captivated to the degree of magnitude a detective might be, but they still want to read and hear about it.

Photo credit: Seabright Hoffman

Take into consideration the graphic progression television and the movies have undergone over the years. We seem to see a pattern of more and more illustrative, evocative, and vivid imagery. I remember a time when spoken language and visual images were never beyond a rated G level. Those times are long past. Our children are viewing television in a new era where discrepancy and censorship is up to the parents and little responsibility lies with television networks. Our homes can now be flooded with blood and guts if you turn on the television. Are we developing an unusual tolerance to violence? I think so. I believe we have become disconnected. This is also what happens to police officers.

As a parent I constantly worry about the right amount of visual guidance for my daughter. Has she seen too much? Will her psyche be negatively affected and what impact will these shows have on her? Especially concerning as a parent, is when I look at the various parades of reality television, illicit material, and explicit scenes in movies. These would have been banned from my viewing as an adolescent. I still define many of them as too inappropriate for my daughter.

That’s just television. It’s not real life. We can make a conscious effort to address the unreal that we view on the screen and dismiss it. The images and sounds can still remain internally and play a mind game. For example, our conscious mind can go numb or shut these things off, but our unconscious brain activity houses the imagery, sounds, smells, etc. and can readily remember or recognize the visual stimulation. It piques our curiosity and we want to know the “how, what, when, where, with whom, and why.”

Police don’t have the luxury to turn away or stop working. When we are out in the field experiencing that deviance firsthand, we have to examine each and every aspect of a gruesome case, including but not limited to: trying to comprehend motives, opportunities, methods, thoughts, and behaviors.

How do the police sort through abhorrent evidence and keep their psyche intact when they are in the midst of police work dealing with deviant behavior and morbid crime scenes? We mitigate stress with various approaches. We compartmentalize. Do we even think about horrifying events like any other civilian? No. We have become calloused, jaded, even disconnected to the emotions behind evil and deviance. We can still readily recognize it, but we contain our feelings. We do have emotions, feelings, and coping skills just like “Joe Citizen” but we have developed an outer shell.

New York Police
Photo credit: Kaje

Police officers are expected to adapt and overcome a barrage of abnormal events, exposure to heinous crimes, unbearable crime scenes, images, sounds, smells, circumstances, dysfunction, and problems throughout their career. Additionally, the pressure from society and peers presumes that officers keep apathetic toward any personal attachment or emotion from job related issues. We have to conduct the investigations. We have to interview and interrogate the most bizarre people.

We don’t have options. And yes, we are mesmerized by mysterious things. We might even cynically view these cases differently and make quips of “that’s neat” or “wow, look at this.” Are police officers “sickos”? Maybe. But I would beg to differ. I believe it because this “neat thing” is a new finding, a new stimulation of being amazed by abnormality. We are fascinated with puzzles.

Let’s go back to the inquiries of how police deal. First, we compartmentalize many things because with time and experience, we become calloused. It’s a natural coping mechanism. Police officers must maintain a level of professionalism and objectiveness while at the same time being able to reach deep into the mind of a deviant perpetrator. Sure. There is always that next call which might be bewildering and stirs up perplexity. We are still capable of experiencing a new level of shocking deviance in the crime world.

We could surmise because we see a constant deluge of dysfunctional behavior, the deviant cases perk up our interest because it a higher level of dysfunction than the last. You could compare it to a drug addict searching for a bigger and better high. Police officers thrive on bigger and better grotesqueness to shock their conscience. It is all comparable to the mental state and thrill seeking of adrenaline junkies.

We certainly don’t approve of it and lobby for the utmost penalties applied to criminal violators. What makes us so curious and captivated? Conceivably, it might be the mysterious shroud of disbelief that envelopes the most vile acts people engage in or the offensiveness levels. Perhaps it is just the immoral aspects of the misbehavior which we just can’t help but make comparisons to societal standards. We are problem solvers. We want to know why.

There are times we never find answers, but just process the evidence and arrest the offender. We somehow try to make sense or wrap our heads around the deviant perspective. We fail. Why? Because it is against our moral fibers.  We always compare the acts to our cultural norms which is entirely paradoxical and a nonsensical concept to manifest. They are taboo, prohibited by the majority, and often censured and/or criminal.

My first exposure to deviant behavior occurred on patrol with a death investigation. Those images of the specific torture devices still remain in my mind. It was a peculiar case. If I think about it, I can reflect upon them and still visualize everything now plain as day. I was shocked, transfixed, and curious. Part of me that day was operating in disbelief. Those feelings happened concurrently and continued until the investigation was complete. There are still pieces I cannot fathom, but I tried to understand. You bet it is a struggle.  I often thought, “Wow. If only they knew about this type of thing”, referring to public knowledge.

Serial killers capture the intrigue of many persons and we are in awe when these cases become public information.  In law enforcement, these incidents and other deviant behaviors are often shared in trainings and confidential details are divulged to help future investigations. Again, that particular knowledge, images, and evidence all impact our psyche. But we always want to know more. We can’t help it. We are junkies. I still quest for that new astonishment. It’s cool to be able to see what others never will fathom nor view, yet alone visualize. The absurd, bizarre, evil, and grotesque is certainly going to happen in police work. It is one aspect of criminal justice which captures one’s thirst for knowledge. But can you handle it?