Cops behaving badly may be on power trip, says psychologist

2010-02-15 00:00

THE inappropriate behaviour of the Mountain Rise policemen who allegedly harassed motorist Lee-Ann Taylor, centres on issues of power and control, according to counselling psychologist Akashni Maharaj.

“A sense of power is conferred with the title and the uniform, and some individuals abuse this power. For them, everybody not in a uniform is seen as a subordinate.”

Maharaj says there could also be an element of resentment in such behaviour. “Police officers are paid low wages and work long hours. This effects self-esteem ... In situations such as this one, they feel they are in a position of power, and this compensates for a lack of self-esteem.”

She said police personnel are exposed to highly stressful experiences on a daily basis and consequently many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. “By exercising power, they hide their shame and anxiety and boost their self-esteem. By demeaning others, they become more empowered.”

“Many police officers are at risk of depression and personality disorders that go undiagnosed,” she says. “This means they are quick to get angry and use force.”

Maharaj said police officers exhibiting such inappropriate, aggressive behaviour may also come from domestic settings where they feel they are not in charge.

“So outside the home, they do what they feel needs to be done to feel good. To preserve their self- image, they must be in charge.”

Maharaj said many police officers are frustrated by the inadequacies of the judicial system, which they perceive to be letting criminals get away with crime.

“So this aggression becomes a form of displaced anger, transferred from criminals on to ordinary people. They will take something as a personal attack and will go that extra mile to do something about it, which is probably why, in this case, they chased this woman.”

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