The recent national tumult about police officers killing suspects got a medical professor with an interest in murder thinking about the flip side of the equation–suspects who kill cops. What are the traits and trends of offenders who gun down LEOs, beyond what we already know from the FBI’s annual stats . . .
Dr. Michael Stone is a physician at a New York forensic psychiatric hospital, teaches at the Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons, and once hosted a Discovery Channel show about murderers, called “Most Evil.”
He studied 66 US cases in which officers were deliberately slain on the job across a recent two-year period and last month published his findings in the journal Violence and Gender. You can access his study until Apr. 18, by clicking here.
Among other things, he offers these observations from his small sample:
• 75% of the killers were from 18 to 37, the segment of the lifespan that sees the rise, peak, and beginning decline of testosterone concentration in males (there were no female killers in the study period). This is true as well “with mass murderers (an almost entirely male group) and actually with male murderers in general,” Stone writes. The average age of cop killers within this age span was 22 for blacks, 29 for whites.
• Another age-related factor, Stone suggests, is that key areas of the brain related to “inhibitory control and social decision-making”–the brain’s “braking system,” so to speak–are “not fully in operation” until the early 20s.
“This helps account for the comparative impulsivity, recklessness, and daring-do of adolescents,” Stone explains. Unlike many other murderers, he says killers of police tend not to plan their slayings but act “impulsively on the spur of the moment,” some how imagining they can “get away with it, even though it is common knowledge (even among the young) that [police] will hunt to the ends of the earth” to apprehend those who kill one of their own.
• About one in eight of Stone’s cop killers “could reasonably be placed within the spectrum of psychiatric disorders.” Paranoid tendencies seemed most common. As a group, cop killers appear “only half as likely to suffer from an obvious schizophrenic or other psychoses as do mass murderers,” he reports.
His data pool did not permit him to explore it, but Stone is intrigued by the possibility that a “history of severe head injury in the early decades of life” might influence fatal attacks on officers. Such injury, he says, “figures importantly in the background of many murderers” because it is “often followed by profound personality changes, [including] impulsivity, poor decision-making, and lack of emotional control.”
• As to race, blacks were disproportionately represented in Stone’s sample, as they are in crime statistics generally. While comprising less than 13% of our population, blacks constituted 37% of cop killers in 2013 and 26% in 2014, he writes.
• The majority of those killing officers had criminal records and most commonly the slayings occurred when officers were trying to question their attacker about some suspicious activity or to make an arrest. After the murders, about half then committed suicide or were killed by other officers–“not statistically different,” Stone points out, from the ends experienced by mass murderers.
Lt. Glen Mills of the Burlington (MA) PD brought this study to our attention. Commenting on Stone’s conclusion that cop killing is so often an impulsive act, Mills says: “It is important in officer survival training to find out what can be done in these impulsive situations to lower the risk. Officers being polite, ‘squared away,’ and waiting for backup might be even more important than we thought.”
Dr. Stone can be reached at: [email protected]