Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Good Cop/Bad Cop Routine – Does it really exist?

We're all familiar with the 'Good cop, Bad cop' routine portrayed in TV and film, such as Martin and Saga in The Bridge, Dalziel and Pascoe, and Jack Burns and Sidney Fenton in WPC 56. 
But in reality, do those ‘bad’ cop interview techniques exist? Are they purely fictional?

In the 1990’s, 600 video and audio recordings of real-life police interviews were examined in a comprehensive piece of research by The Home Office Police Research Group. Although 64% of these interviews were judged to be conducted competently, this left 36% which were not, citing the following categories of failure:

1.     Ineptitude:

Police officers conducting interviews were sometimes found to be ill at ease, nervous or lacking in confidence. Some were unfamiliar with the evidence and had not read the written statements connected with the crime committed. Insufficient grasp of the legal evidence needed to prove the offence, continual interruption of suspects and over-reaction to aggressiveness or provocation were also spotted. So - 'Good Cop, Naff Cop'...

2.    Unfair questioning or unprofessional conduct:

A small number of cases showed the interviewer adopting ‘an unduly harrying or aggressive approach’ – here we go, the traditional ‘bad cop’ approach - particularly where young offenders were involved. There were also cases in which suspects were offered unrealistic inducements to have ‘offences taken into consideration’ or told they would receive unrealistically long or short sentences, either as a threat or as an inducement. Sound familiar?

3. Angling for a Confession:

Many officers placed too much emphasis on obtaining a confession employing techniques involving leading questions, allegations and repetitive questioning. In addition, the tone adopted was often one of extreme scepticism. However, confessions obtained in this manner were often inadmissible or unsatisfactory, as the officers ultimately failed to elicit any supporting confirmatory evidence. There were many instances, for example, of an interview being brought to a premature halt as soon as a confession was obtained. An example of 'Good Cop, Daft Cop'?

False Confessions

Image: the Mirror
False confessions are more common than we might assume – up to 20% of criminals undergoing prison sentences claim they have made a false confession at some stage during police custody, according to forensic research carried out on 2011.

But not all voluntary false confessions are due to the aggressive bad cop approach. Here are a few of the reasons suspects claim they’re guilty:

  • A pathological need for attention – usually notoriety – resulting from low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.
  • A self-sacrificing motivation to protect the real perpetrator, especially in teenagers – either to protect a friend or to avoid being ostracised by a gang.
  • Blind faith in the system – a belief that the truth will always emerge later…or hope that their lawyer will sort it all out.
  • Finding the situation too stressful - a pressing desire to have the interview over with.
  • Fear of what the officers may do (fuelled by TV and fictional accounts).
  • Health issues – a drug addict will go to the station and want to confess to get out as quickly as possible.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder also predisposes suspects to make false confessions.
Since the 1990's, new regulations have forced the police to clean up their act and it's clear from the list above, that the eagerly awaited confession may not be a result of any Good Cop/Bad Cop tactics in real life, although it does continue to thrill us with intimidation, confrontation and drama in fiction!

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AJ Waines is author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train