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Policing and Psychopathy: The Case of Robert Philip Hanssen

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice Volume: 7 Issue: 3 Dated: 2007 Pages: 1-31
J. Scott Sanford M.S.; Bruce A. Arrigo Ph.D.
Date Published
31 pages
This article examines the utility of the psychopathy construct for explaining the extreme behavior and personality structure of Robert P. Hanssen, a former FBI agent convicted of 15 counts of espionage considered by many to be among the most damaging to national security in U.S. history.
Although many psychopaths avoid formal contact with the criminal justice system, the psychopathic personality is associated with a propensity to violate many of society's rules and expectations. Indeed, Hanssen disregarded and violated laws, rules, and moral values for years. As an adult, Robert Hanssen's criminal proclivities expanded exponentially. His acts of international espionage included a wide range of illegal activities over a long period of time while carefully avoiding detection. Among the several traits associated with psychopathy, callousness and lack of remorse are most prominent. This explains why psychopaths persist in their criminal behaviors over time, because guilt, shame, remorse, empathy, and other emotions associated with behavioral change are absent from their emotional world. Hanssen also demonstrated the psychopathic characteristics of the need for ongoing stimulation and poor impulse control, with the latter being prominent in his history of sexual promiscuity. This case study of Hanssen is suggestive for understanding psychopathy and extreme criminal conduct by police officers. Psychopathy provides a useful, if somewhat limited, framework for better understanding extreme criminal conduct by law enforcement officials; however, psychopathy within the policing occupation remains largely unexplored. Police administrators and criminal justice policymakers should recognize the benefits of continued research into officer misconduct and the need for improved psychological testing in screening applicants for police work. 79 references