U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Sociopathic Police Personality: Is It a Product of the "Rotten Apple" or the "Rotten Barrel?"

NCJ Number
Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology Volume: 14 Issue: 1 Dated: Spring 1999 Pages: 28-37
Catherine Griffin; Jim Ruiz
Date Published
10 pages
This paper provides support for the "Rotten Barrel" theory of police deviant behavior, which holds that the stressful conditions of the police occupation constitute a primary risk factor for police misconduct.
In contrast to the "Rotten Barrel" theory, the traditional "Rotten Apple" theory has argued that deviant police officers brought their undesirable traits into the policing profession when they were hired; under this theory, the solution to police misconduct is to improve the psychological screening of police officers so that the "rotten apples" are excluded from the "barrel." This article focuses on the sociopathic, or antisocial, personality manifest in many police officers. Attention is given to environmental stresses that increase the likelihood of criminal behavior within police departments and the influence of the police subculture on new recruits. There are two types of sociopaths, primary and secondary. Primary sociopaths are predisposed to antisocial behavior through their genotype. Secondary sociopaths are those who become antisocial because of environmental factors. External factors such as police subcultural norms, peer influence, and economic factors may lead some officers to believe that antisocial or deviant behavior is the most appropriate and most beneficial approach to their role as a police officer. The environment in which police officers work offers unlimited opportunities for corruption and deceit, and these environmental factors may lead to sociopathic behavior. Early intervention is crucial for officers who show signs of stress, anxiety, depression, or any other negative behavior. Periodic, ongoing psychological testing of officers, stress management training, and the existence of alternative intervention measures can assist in preventing the stresses of policing from leading to serious police misconduct. 28 references