Law Enforcement, Psyche, and Justice


Let us not launch the boat ...
Valued Senior Member
On the General and the Particular

According to the statement released by Washington County Virginia Sheriff's Office, Austin Lee Edwards graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy in January, and was hired to work as a deputy on the sixteenth of November. Less than ten days later, Deputy Edwards is dead, slain in a shootout.

The suspect in a triple homicide in Southern California who died in a shootout with police was a Virginia law enforcement officer who police believe drove across the country to meet a teenage girl before killing three members of her family.

Austin Lee Edwards, 28, also likely set fire to the family's home in Riverside, California, on the day of the shooting Friday before leaving with the girl, according to the Riverside Police Department.

Deputies exchanged gunfire with and fatally shot Edwards after locating him with the teenager later that day, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and Riverside Police said in news releases ....

.... Edwards, a resident of North Chesterfield, Virginia, met the girl online and obtained her personal information by deceiving her with a false identity, known as "catfishing," Riverside Police said.

The fifteen year-old girl is alive; her mother and grandparents are dead. Mark and Shari Wined were 69 and 65; their daughter, Brooke Winek, was 38. The bodies were discovered by firefighters dispatched to reports of a fire at the home.

Police in Riverside, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of downtown Los Angeles, received a call for a welfare check Friday morning concerning a man and woman involved in a disturbance near a car. Investigators later determined the two people were Edwards and the teenager, whose age was not released.

Authorities believe Edwards parked his vehicle in a neighbor's driveway, walked to the home and killed the family members before leaving with the girl ....

.... Riverside authorities distributed a description of Edwards' vehicle to law enforcement agencies and several hours later, police located the car with Edwards and the teenager in Kelso, an unincorporated area of San Bernardino County. Edwards fired gunshots and was killed by deputies returning fire, police said.


A note on the telling of the tale: The Associated Press ran with a plain headline, "California police: Virginia man killed family, took teenager". A local news affiliate↱ reposted the AP story with a local-interest headline: "Who was former Virginia State Trooper turned California murder suspect Austin Lee Edwards?" Molly Conger↱ summarized the WCVSO press report:

the washington county, VA sheriff's office has issued a press release about their deputy, austin lee edwards, who was killed in a shootout with police in california over the weekend. he had murdered the family of the teenage girl he traveled to california to abduct.

Of sublimation, as with most of Freudianism, Freud himself was far too simplistic; sure, boxers like to fight, but it's more than sadism, and narcissism ranging into megalomania is probably more useful a suggestion about surgeons than, well, sadism. But what do we say of police? Law enforcement in Virginia (qtd. in Conger) declares it "shocking" that "such an evil and wicked person could infiltrate law enforcement while concealing his true identity as a computer predator and murderer", and, yes, we might easily agree that it is "sad", but no, it's not really so "shocking". Compared to everything else that gets sublimated into the psyche of the law enforcer, predatory wickedness finds its way in the station door fairly regularly, such that every now and then this kind of iteration manifests. It is especially ugly, and perhaps the violence itself is shocking¹, but the idea that a cop would do such a thing is not.

I mean, yeah, maybe it's kind of surprising for those close to it; nobody around such perpetrators ever seems to see it coming.²


A literary moment doing a bit on Dumas would summarize that in history, the police have generally been despised. It is easy enough to see contexts in which this is true. And if modern liberal democracies might see reason to change that outlook, a practical reality in our American experience, and explicitly recognized along the way, we have managed to fetishize law enforcement within our patriotic behavioral cult. We are to show love and support for law enforcement even when the enforcers behave despicably. This delicate artifice of sensibility is easily rattled, and almost certainly finds the idea that a police officer would behave in particular ways unkind and even hateful projection. And let us split hairs outrageously, for a moment: The idea that a police officer would drive across the country in order to chase teenage tail would offend this sensibility. That it's a catfish? That evolves to murder? At some point, we might answer sniffy reservations, objections, and even pretenses of offense by saying, C'mon, cops are human, too, right?

But if we suggest a particular variation on a theme is not especially shocking, the question remains what theme we refer to.

If the question is, what kind of person becomes a cop, we can nearly predict some of the easy stereotyping. But there is a serious question and real answer to be found. It's just that the connection between overzealous ticketing and whatever the hell just emerged from Virginia and died in California is going to be more subtle than merely the narcissism of control freaks. In the available range of stereotypes, the basic sketch of a gaslighting cop is pretty easy, but what are the actual components that go into it? If we ask why anyone becomes a cop, it is just as easy to wrap the answers in the creeds and codes of our American patriotism and beneficence, but none of those answers can even begin to discuss what has gone so awry in American law enforcement, and this has gone on long enough that it is generational and recursive. It's not so much that nothing ever begins, but if each entrenched reiteration tells of its own moment, a particular question remains stable, albeit unanswered, throughout: What are the thought processes and priorities leading people to want to be part of this?

Because it's one thing to want to help people, or protect the helpless, or pursue justice, but the difference between mythopoeic storytelling tropes and how the narcissistic assertion and effecting of authority connect both the law enforcement identity and the worst of what law enforcers do, is found in what any such ideas actually mean to anyone who seeks the badge.

It's at that confluence that we must consider the question of what kind of people become law enforcers, or what behavioral traits and psychological priorities impel them toward law enforcement.

If, in the prestige of law enforcement, we suggest it takes a certain kind of person, that only certain people have the right traits and character, to be a law enforcer, what are those traits, and what is that character?

And here we turn the question on its head: That prestige is in many ways notorious, and while one extraordinary iteration most certainly does not a definitive generalization make, solipsistic authoritarian assertion permeates the law enforcement discourse and politic. What is the relationship between the right traits and character to be a law enforcer and the permeating connection between that character and so much of what is wrong with law enforcement and makes it so particularly antithetical to our mythography of American justice.


¹ There is a lot about what passes for shocking violence in these United States that might go here, but this probably isn't the appropriate moment for such cynical parsing.

² Unless they do, but something about cynicism and the appropriate moment goes here. And then everything about the point gets complicated.​

@socialistdogmom. "the washington county, VA sheriff's office has issued a press release about their deputy, austin lee edwards, who was killed in a shootout with police in california over the weekend. he had murdered the family of the teenage girl he traveled to california to abduct." Twitter. 28 November 2022. 28 November 2022.

King, Brendan. "California police: Virginia man killed family, took teenager". Associated Press. 28 November 2022. 28 November 2022.

― "Who was former Virginia State Trooper turned California murder suspect Austin Lee Edwards?" 28 November, 2022. 28 November 2022.