Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Violent Young Sociopaths Bring Fear to the Streets Brutality of Today's Crimes Bewilders Veteran Convicts

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Violent Young Sociopaths Bring Fear to the Streets Brutality of Today's Crimes Bewilders Veteran Convicts

Article excerpt

A new breed of criminal is working the streets today, criminologists say.

His ethic, modus operandi and regard for life differs greatly from criminals in previous decades.

He is younger. He is more violent. And he will kill people in a manner that bewilders even old-time career criminals.

"That's one of the reasons why there is so much fear of crime in our society - this pattern of gratuitous violence that you didn't see in the past," said Albert Cardarelli, a criminologist at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

"It's this viciousness, this unpredictability on the part of the criminal that is frightening people so much."

Although there are no statistics that chronicle senseless killings, the trend is reflected in the rise of "stranger homicide" statistics.

About a third of all homicides are committed by strangers - three times the number compared to 20 years ago, according to data compiled by Marc Riedel, a criminology professor at Southern Illinois University. This means more people are being murdered during street robberies, holdups and other confrontations, and fewer people are being killed during domestic disputes and neighborhood arguments.

"Robbery and burglary used to almost be a profession," Riedel said. "Now you've got mostly amateurs doing the crimes and these amateurs are more clumsy, more impulsive and more likely to kill."

Police began seeing a change in the nature of street crime in the late 1970s, when crack cocaine appeared on the scene and gangs took hold in many neighborhoods.

In previous decades, many of the property crimes were committed by heroin addicts who were "low-key and docile," and favored burglaries, said Sergio Robleto of the Los Angeles Police Department.

But crack addicts are more "edgy and paranoid . . . people who will pull holdups and carjackings and can kill very quickly," he said.

More juveniles are committing violent crimes, and they have a greater access to guns than ever before. These juveniles, criminologists say, tend to have less regard for the consequences of their actions than an older career criminal.

And the sociopath is more prevalent today, psychiatrist Michael Zona said. The sociopath "basically has no feelings," absolutely no remorse or concern for other people's suffering, Zona said.

"The disintegration of the family, drugs, poverty . . . there are more angry, disenfranchised people out there who missed their share of the pie," said Zona, who works with the Los Angeles Police Department's threat management unit. "These conditions are creating a lot of callous people."

On the top tier of the maximum security unit at the state prison in Tenachapi, Calif., Robert Dacy and his cellmate crowd around their 13-inch television every evening and watch the news.

They pay particular attention to stories about holdups and robberies and are continually perplexed by the types of crimes they see:

Crimes that end up in shootings even if the victims cooperate. …

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