Blue Line

Human nature and basic drives

September 28, 2022  By Joseph Pangaro

Photo credit: © ANNA KOSOLAPOVA / Adobe Stock

In the past few years, we have seen several high-profile political people who have engaged in some inappropriate personal behaviour; for example, a former New York Governor and former congressman, that both made headline news for quite some time. Both men were led astray by their base instincts and inner drives in the arena of personal sexual behaviour, the result being the destruction of their careers and pain for their families.

Why would two such prominent men engage in this negative behaviour? Were they arrogant in believing they could get away with it? The deeper question is: what would drive these men—and many others—to step outside their familial relationships and engage in such risky actions? The answer to this question requires a greater understanding of human nature and the things that drive us as people.

As a police officer, if you want to be successful you will need to understand what makes people tick. We see evidence of this understanding in many of the processes of law enforcement and security organizations.

The debriefing of a criminal is critically important. This interview will seek information that you would need for a conviction in a trial and typically focuses on the “why” and “how” the criminal did what they did.


My partners and I would debrief suspects on almost any type of incident, from burglaries to thefts, to frauds, to sexual harassment and assault cases. The information you learn in these interviews can be the key to preventing future crimes.

Understanding why a person committed a specific crime allows you to put a given set of facts into perspective and reveal patterns in behaviour. It is not an exact science but the information you learn can give the investigator insight into how certain people act and react in different instances.

Take house burglaries, for instance; if you are the victim of a house burglary, it’s a very difficult thing to accept. The feeling of being violated is ever present; having a stranger come into your home, walk around your house and go through your personal property can be devastating to some. In contrast to how the victim feels, in the world of policework, a house burglary is something that happens quite often. How, then, do the police respond?

Every police officer would like to find some fingerprints at the scene and match them up to a known criminal, but that’s not always possible. Some agencies do not process burglaries, and some who do are not always good at it. Without that important piece of evidence, we are left with asking neighbours if they saw anything out of the ordinary. What we’re left with is basic police investigation work, and that’s where the debriefing interviews come in.

The information you learn in these interviews can be the key to preventing future crimes.

There are “signature” actions demonstrated by people who engage in criminal activity. This is where a criminal will find a way of doing their business that works for them. An example would be a shoplifter who uses a friend to create a distraction to the clerk while they take the desired merchandise. When the team figures out what distraction works best, they will use it repeatedly; the same is true for serial criminals, including rapists and killers among other criminal acts.

Burglars are no different; they will choose the same type of houses, or houses in the same place on a block, such as corner properties or houses that back up to woods. Some burglars will always break out the glass at the basement window, others will always break out the glass in the kitchen, and others will always shoulder the front door. Whatever signature they have, you can predict to some degree; how, when and where they are likely to strike next.

This understanding and acceptance that people do have signature actions can provide an understanding into the human mind. People are creatures of habit. Getting good at reading the signatures left by criminals is an individual talent that police officers can develop.

Another “understanding” a good investigator needs to be proficient in is the basic human drives—the things that motivate us. These basic drives to eat, sleep and procreate all influence our daily actions.

The sexual drive is one of the most powerful drives we have. By looking at our own experiences, we can all come up with examples of how this drive has been a blessing or a curse. We were driven to say hello to someone we liked, which led to dating and maybe marriage or family. This is considered a good outcome because the drive was controlled.

We also know of people that can get themselves in trouble because of their sex drive. Inappropriate comment and sexual harassment are very clear examples of this drive’s negative side.

Understanding how these drives make us tick can help us solve crimes. When does a person go from a healthy sex drive to one that is inappropriate, then to one that is criminal? These people have signature actions, just like a burglar does. The investigator must simply uncover enough of the facts and actions of a particular crime to begin to see a picture of the person who is committing it. With that understanding we can begin to “think like the criminal” and anticipate when and where they will attack next.

In the end, only the people who engage in these behaviours can fully explain why they did what they did in any given incident, but the rest of us can be aware of the patterns. A serial burglar may be driven by the desire for “things” or money, but a criminal that acts based on a human drive rarely changes.

Lt. Joseph Pangaro is a 27-year veteran law enforcement officer and former director of school security. Pangaro is the CEO of True Security Design, a provider of training for law enforcement, schools, business and religious communities. He can be contacted at

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