Catching a killer: How the FBI gets inside the mind of a murderer

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — What does it take to catch a killer? In some cases, it involves getting inside the mind of a murderer.

The new show “Clarice” just premiered on CBS. It’s a psychological thriller — and a sequel to the film “The Silence of the Lambs.” In that movie, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) interviews a convicted murderer, in order to help solve a separate crime.

So, what exactly goes on inside the mind of a murderer? That is a question the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit has been answering for nearly 30 years. 8 News Now sat down with FBI Las Vegas Special Agent in Charge Aaron Rouse to learn more about the unit how they do their jobs.

FBI Las Vegas Special Agent in Charge Aaron Rouse

“They started off by talking to people that were already convicted criminals to understand why they murdered, how they murdered, to learn their tradecraft, if you will,” Rouse said. “The science behind it is solid, and we find out a lot of the times that when we talk to people who have committed crimes and have been convicted, many times they want to cooperate. It’s their opportunity for redemption in some cases — and for notoriety in others.”

Rouse says interviewing captured killers has also become a reliable tool for the FBI when it comes to tracking down sinister suspects.

“Our body of knowledge continues to expand, and it allows us to be more effective and help state and local agencies be more effective in the pursuit of criminals,” Rouse said.

Rouse says solving these cases takes time — and that the depiction seen in entertainment is not always the true reality. Rouse adds that the agents who interview criminals are well-prepared.

“The people that are selected to be a part of the Behavioral Analysis Unit have an accomplished record as an investigator to begin with,” Rouse said. “Many of them also have advanced degrees that allow them to contribute on multiple levels.”

But psychologists say not everyone is immune from the mind games.

“Even trained professionals can get manipulated by people with psychopathy,” said Dr. Stephen Benning, an Associate Professor of Psychology at UNLV.

Dr. Stephen Benning — Associate Professor of Psychology at UNLV

Dr. Benning says people with psychopathy, which often includes serial killers, tend to exploit others’ pain. And although it can be difficult to identify these individuals, there are some tell-tale signs.

“What you would be looking for in that kind of encounter is someone who seems superficially charming and manipulative, who is really good at wheedling their way in, explaining themselves away, but who also might have a profound deficit in empathy.”

The exploitation could even happen during conversations with cops.

“For some people, that may lead to a sense of fear, of feeling like the person in front of them is this overwhelming, overpowering force,” Dr. Benning said. “It also may feel like more of a dominance struggle, as if the person is trying to assert control over the situation.”

But Dr. Benning says a majority of mental health impacts for officers usually stem from day-to-day activities, such as canvasing crime scenes.

“Those details might end up creating more of a sense of traumatic stress,” Dr. Benning said.
For Las Vegas officers, that is where Metro’s Police Employee Assistance Program (P.E.A.P.) comes in.

P.E.A.P. is a voluntary, confidential program for all Metro Police employees and their families, to help with the daily stresses of the job — and even of life in general — to ensure they are healthy and able to work.

“Many of us have gone through similar things,” said Metro’s P.E.A.P. Director Annette Mullin.

Metro’s P.E.A.P. Director Annette Mullin

Mullin says P.E.A.P. has six peer counselors, both commission and civilian, who are able to relate to the officers who are struggling.

“They are normal employees with Metro that have special skills, especially great listening skills, and they help our employees get connected with different resources.”

Employees set the pace for their sessions — and the help is easily accessible: online, over the phone or in-person.

“It’s just having that impartial person that can listen to what’s going on, that’s confidential, that they can talk to that really kind of sets an employee, kind of gives them the encouragement just to breathe a little,” Mullin said.

P.E.A.P. takes it up a notch during more traumatic events.

“Any time there is a critical incident, or an officer-involved shooting, we will respond to the scene and we get connected to the involved employees,” Mullin said.

Mullin adds that Metro also works with three contracted clinicians to help officers who need the support.

The FBI also prides itself in its employee assistance program.

“These are great counselors that provide that outlet to safely deal with whatever the trauma may be,” Rouse said. “There are procedures in place to make sure they have a healthy outlet to voice any concerns, to be able to talk about issues that may come up.”

So, agents can continue to catch cold-blooded killers.

“We want them to be healthy in their pursuit of evil,” Rouse said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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