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How Did 'Cannibal' Cop Slip Through the Cracks?

By Jill Colvin | October 25, 2012 8:05pm

NEW YORK CITY — It’s no surprise that “Cannibal Cop” Gilberto Valle slipped through the NYPD’s psychological screening tests, police experts said Thursday.

Valle, 28, a six-year veteran who was arrested by federal authorities Wednesday for plotting to kidnap, cook and eat dozens of women, shocked former prosecutors and NYPD brass with his alleged plot to drug and rape women, then cook them in his oven and eat their body parts.

“There shouldn’t be any crack in the infrastructure that should allow this guy to get in,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former police officer and professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who said that Valle’s suspected mental illness should have set off “a giant waving red flag."

“This is potentially the most unsuitable person who’s ever worn the uniform, if the allegations are true… I think people are entitled to wonder how a person could spend six years in a law enforcement agency and not get detected,” he said.

But former and current NYPD insiders said the department’s background checks simply aren’t designed to catch people as sick as Valle — and that the department does not submit officers to any type of regular screening once cops are admitted to the force.

"There really isn’t any ongoing psychological screening or medical screening once you get in the police department,” said one former high-ranking member of the department who was directly involved in personnel issues, echoing other law enforcement sources.

Sources said that recruits joining the department do undergo extensive criminal record and background checks, which includes a survey of previous residences, high school and college records, as well as significant medical or psychological conditions.

Candidates also take a standard, psychological written test called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, and are then interviewed one-on-one by psychologists to identify potential problems.

But Maria Haberfeld, a political science professor at John Jay who runs training programs for the NYPD and has written books on the subject, said that the tests just aren’t designed to identify the type of disorder that could have motivated Valle.

“No matter how extensive a background check, nobody would identify anything in a background check that would come anything close to this personality disorder,” she said.

“Nobody asks whether they want to cook women and eat them for dinner," she added. "I think it’s almost inconceivable for a police psychologist to even consider this. It’s too bizarre."

Others noted that Valle’s problems may have started after he joined the department or grown more severe over time.

“You hope that the screening mechanism can screen them out, but you don’t know when this person’s problems developed and why,” said the high-ranking member, who noted that, unlike other departments, the NYPD does not conduct any type of annual screenings of officers' mental health.

Officers can access psychological services if they choose, but are rarely forced to, barring a traumatic event, sources said.

Others argued that, just because Valle boasted of killing the women, doesn’t mean he necessarily would have gone through with the killings.

“It’s hard for me to believe that it’s legit,” cautioned Haberfeld. “People, for various reasons, they crave attention.”

There are also bad apples in any organization, who shock the conscience and leave co-workers stunned, said Thomas Repetto, the former president of city's Citizens Crime Commission.

“In any walk of life there are always shocks,” he said. “You never know who you are working with.”

O’Donnell agreed.

“It mirrors the city," he said. “You can have tremendously good people in an organization and you can have one cop who performed a spectacular act of evil, if true.”

Valle, who lives in Forest Hills, Queens, worked at the 26th Precinct in Morningside Heights, where fellow officers described him as entirely average.

He was arrested after a three-month FBI investigation, during which investigators uncovered emails and instant messages in which Valle was allegedly caught "discussing plans to kidnap, rape, torture, kill, cook and eat body parts of a number of women," according to the complaint filed in Manhattan Federal Court.

Investigator also uncovered a computerized list of 100 women Valle allegedly kept, which included a photograph of each one, along with addresses and physical descriptions, according to court documents. [Click here to read the shocking complaint.]

With reporting by Murray Weiss