Best defense against "good cop - bad cop" tactics (not just in police interrogation)?

I was recently in a professional situation where I thought I might become a victim of good cop - bad cop tactics. (I wasn’t, it turned out – everything worked out fine to everyone’s satisfaction.)

Presumably the GC-BC strategy was originally used by policeman and other authority figures when trying to coerce cooperation from a person, usually a suspect, accomplice or unwilling witness. One “cop” comes down hard on the person with threats or unbending strictness; the other “cop” befriends the person, winning their trust often by pretending to get the “bad cop” to go easy. The “good cop” can then use the trustful relationship to manipulate the person into cooperating.

Not surprisingly, the tactic has spread well beyond the precinct house interrogation room, into general society and the marketplace.

My recent GC-BC false alarm reminded me of an episode many years ago when I fell for the move hook-line-and-sinker in a business transaction. It was days (or weeks or months) later before I realized what had happened and how easy a sucker I had been. It made me appreciate how effective GC-BC can be.

So, I was wondering: If there is a textbook “best defense” against it that psychologists or businesspeople have devised? It might come in handy next time I’m negotiating a deal. Or trying to convince some detective that it wasn’t me who pulled the trigger in that drive-by on the Westside Highway last week.

Damn. What happened to that closed parenthasis in my subject heading? If a mod could fix it, I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

I don’t know. Maybe you could deal with one person and one person only, and that would be the good cop. Then he’d try to tell you that the “bad cop” was making him charge you such high fees, or whatever. Then you could just leave it up to him to handle that at his end. I don’t know.

When it comes to a real interrogation, I think whatever resolutions you’ve made to yourself probably fly out the window. I like to believe that I’d insist on their treating me with respect, but being locked in a room for five hours with no bathroom break would probably change my mind.

GC-BC is a special case within the larger category of reward-punishment behavior modification.

The best defense against all forms of it are to be aware of it and how it works (of course; knowledge is power), and to play the game of psychological warfare back at them, playing hard, and playing for keeps:
• If someone wants to be nice to you, do you favors, accept them graciously, always superficially behaving as if there were no strings attached (i.e., don’t do anything at all to reciprocate other than warmly saying “thanks”) unless they make very explicit quid pro quo proposals

• If someone is being hostile towards you and making threats, deal with the threats as if you did not even for a moment comprehend any implicit “unless” tradeoffs; be dense enough to extract very explicit promises / threats.

• Retain (if only in your own head) the clearest possible sense of what you would be doing if there were no rewards and no punishments being offered, other than whatever positives & negatives are intrinsically part of the decision that they appear to be trying to influence

• All forms of r&p, including GC/BC, are at their most dangerous when the people making use of it are able to isolate you from any contact other than themselves, without you realizing it. When it is not practical for them to isolate you and surround you exclusively like that, their next best choice (and a common modality) is to isolate you and several others they are similarly trying to control and form a “community” in which they retain the final authority. (They can manipulate you folks against each other, making the community of victims behave as Good Cop, or even as Bad Cop, while Staff take the other role). The more that you can obtain feedback from people genuinely outside of the scenario, the less they can control all sources of interpersonal gratification. Or of criticism, for that matter. Be aware of being cut off, either as an individual or as part of a population.

R = C/S where R = whatever positive reinforcement you are able to receive from the people in your social context, C = your confidence of being able to cope with and participate in the social context, and S = your self-will, or tendency towards personal stubbornness in determining what you will & won’t do rather than doing what others around you want you to do. With that in mind, accept that as a human being you need C. (That is, over time you need, often enough, to feel that you are a part of the social context and can participate in it and get what you need, socially speaking). Well, the manipulators are deliberately controlling R, or as much of R as they can control, hoping that you will respond by reducing S in order to get some C out of the situation. Being aware of all this won’t make it change, insofar as you remain human. You do not, however, have to get it (a nice hit of C) “right now”, and as long as you can get it from somewhere you don’t need to get it from them. If there is a source of positive reinforcement without hooks embedded in it somewhere in a context you’ll be part of reasonably soon, you learn to hold out for that and, metaphorically speaking, hold your breath in the meantime.

• From the above section, you get a sense of how the passage of time plays a part here. The routines they use kick in and start working well after they’ve had you deprived of other social contexts long enough to feel it. Know it, expect it, watch it happen, and outwait them. It costs them a lot of dedicated persistence to isolate you as an individual. The group-community scenario is designed to work over a much longer period of time, and is more pernicious, but it’s also inherently weaker as the other victims of the scenario can be a source of positive reinforcement and connectedness if you play them and don’t just let the manipulators play you and the other victims. Remember, you, too, are a source of reinforcement and feedback to everyone in the environment, so you, too, need to reward and/or withhold reward and approval and whatnot in keeping with the extent to which the others are supporting what you need to see supported. And, ultimately, the other victims are being mistreated by the manipulators and therefore, by definition, have an axe to grind if you can help them catch them out at it.

• It is theoretically possible that you can get them to realize you understand what they are doing, know how it works, and aren’t going to be played like that, and that they will come out and say, in essence, “OK, we’ll deal with you straight”. But I’ve never seen it and I think you should not expect it. You should certainly not make that your goal. Much more commonly, they will get frustrated and annoyed. With you, certainly (count on it!), but also with each other. If you’re really really good you can play them off against each other despite being in a much more precarious position, if only because they will often be unaccustomed to having the tables flipped on them.

I’ve picked up a few tips on dealing with hardball negotiating tactics: always give yourself a night to think about things before reaching an agreement; always feel free to walk out of negotiations when things get too intense and you need to clear your head (go to the bathroom, call for a lunch break, etc), and if you can recognize that you’re being subjected to some sort of pressure techniques, call them on it: “I get the feeling that Mutt over there is playing the bad cop, and Jeff here is playing the good cop. I sure hope that isn’t the case. So let’s get back to work…”

You may also wish to pick up the classic book on negotiation, “Getting to Yes.” It’s a pretty easy read, and there’s some good stuff to be learned in there.

Mess with their heads: respond warmly and cooperatively to the “bad cop”, and stubbornly and reluctantly to the “bad cop”. Then switch. Then switch back again.

OK, I’ve messed with my head now: the second “bad cop” should read “good cop”. See how well it works?

Depends on how disgusting you want to be …

Locked in with a refusal to let you go to a bathroom? Piss in your pants. Announce very loudly that you TOLD them you needed to go.

I had an exboyfriend who though it would be fun to play at bondage and I ended up tied to a bed. He decided he wanted me to beg to be allowed to go to the john. I refused to beg as that was not part of the original deal, so I peed the bed. Luckily for him it was a water bed so teh only need was to strip off the pad and sheets and wash them, but if it had been a standard mattress I would have still peed the bed.

Having been stuck in hospital for a serious amountof time growing up, I can piss anywhere, any time. I have very little false body modesty left. I dont find the need to piss embarrassing, and if they refuse to let me go pee, then they have to deal with a very adamantly upset prisoner who now reeks of piss, piss on their chair and piss on the floor. And a prisoner that as soon as I get access to a phone will have a lawyer rip them new and interesting bodily orifices for abrogating MY rights.

This thread reminds of a question I’ve thought of posing in GQ. In real police interrogations, aren’t most or all of the suspects able to recognize Good Cop/Bad Cop when they see it?

What happens if the person being questioned flat out calls them on it? What if the suspect starts calling them “Good Cop” and “bad Cop” (“Hey, Good Cop, get me a coke”)? Do the interrogators play innocent and try to stay in character or do they ever drop it and try something else?

Well, when dealing with Police, the answer is very simple- once they read you your Miranda rights you say “I want to speak to my/an attorney”. Say NOTHING else, other than “Am I free to go?”. Repeat as nessesary. If they say “Hey we thought you coudl help us out as a witness”- then say "You had that chance until you Mirandized me and thus started treating me as a suspect’. IANAL.

Do NOT, repeat NOT think you can “talk your way out”. Nothing you can say will help, and much will hurt. Your attorney can talk you out- you can not. Never accept the police dept offer to come down to that station to be questioned without your attorney.

Of course someone will come by and say “well if I am innocent, what do I have to hide?”. Innocent men have talked their way into prison - don’t be one of them. Besides- you have commited crimes- everyone has. No one is “innocent”.

So- the answer to “best defense against Good cop/Bad Cop?” when the police are involved is let your lawyer do the talking.

Outside of police situations- get up and walk out after saying something like “Good cop/Bad Cop? :rolleyes: You shitheads have watched too much TV. Bye”

i would say that the one person only would have to be the bad cop … so you break their strategy, as the good guy doesnt do what he is supposed to do - win your trust


The best defense to GC/BC is Divide & Conquer. Find something that the two cops differ on and drive that point home like a wedge between them. In a legal situation, go with DrDeth’s suggestion.

I think the simplest thing is to try to use them against each other.
Ask the good cop if what he’s saying is that the bad cop is being too strict.
Then turn around and quote him to the bad cop and ask directly which one is right.
When they go back and forth quote each one to the other and make them defend their own views.
Sounds dumb, but what you are doing is changing the subject from you to them.

To tie together what a lot of people above have said:

The GC/BC strategy is predicated on the assumption that you have no choice but to negotiate with them on their terms. It sounds stupid, but the best way to deal with the situation is look for the out. Whether it’s waiting for your lawyer, giving it a night’s rest, finding another job where people treat you with respect, or just demanding that they get down to brass tacks and make you a solid offer, your goal should be to get out of the setup. Fundimentally, the tactic is designed to get you into an altered state where you depend on the GC/BC for your whole world view. Maintain a big-picture perspective; concentrate on the world outside of the meeting. Remember that GC/BC are only messengers plying their trade. You are actually negotiating with something bigger than both of them. If you aren’t actually incarcerated or enslaved, remember that you have the freedom to deal with other people who won’t treat you that way.

Sounds dumb- as it IS dumb. Sorry. Never try and outsmart the cops. You may well be smarter than they are- but they have a LOT more expereince at this than you do, and the power to back it up. Don’t try and beat them at their game- just refuse to play.

Ding ding ding ding! We have a winner!

Don’t ever talk to the police about anything more serious than a traffic stop without an attorney. Ever.

“Outsmart the cops?” Whatever, junior.

For anything that isn’t a real legal situation, such as good cop/bad cop being used in a car dealership: “Ahhh, come on, you’re not going to play this old game with me are you?”

This is from Roger Dawson’s Secrets of Power Neogiating.

Still, it works. Call them on it. If they still want to play games, just leave.
Tell the “good cop” that you’ll only deal with the “bad cop.” That is usually the “salesperson who is on your side” versus the “evil sales manager.” They both want your money.

I find this thread interesting; and I am surprised no one has thanked AHunter3 - well done; where have you done this before?

Outside of an actual police situation, there is no true Good Cop/Bad Cop scenario.

The police can hold you against your will, If you’re a suspect in a crime, they can hold you a long time. In almost any other scenario, you have the option of getting up and walking out.

So… as an (inexact) example, let’s say you’re trying to buy a new car. Your sales man is playing the “good cop,” acting like he’s on your side, acting like he wants to get you a great deal and a low interest rate. But, surprise surprise, his "bad cop manager won’t give you the OK, and insists you pay a higher price and a higher interest rate.

At that point, once you realize you’re getting played, the smart thing to do is stand up, say, “Okay, well obviously I’m wasting my time and yours here. Good day.” And then walk out.

Problem is, by thaty point, too many people think they owe their “friend” the salesman something for being so nice, or figure, “Gosh, I’ve been here two hours already, and it’s such a hassle, and I don’t want to admit this whole afternoon has been shot…”

That’s about as close to a good cop/bad cop scenario as most of us will face outside a real police station. And your best defense is the knowledge that you don’t HAVE to stand for it. You can get up and leave. And you should.

You’re absolutely right…it does sound stupid. Real life isn’t like some TV cop movie where the loose cannon cop is put in check by some liberal touchie feelie captain. They are working together and they know what they are doing. The best strategy is to lawyer up and don’t fall for their “favors”.
As for non-legal situations, sometimes simply walking out of the negotiations is not a real option. Sometimes you need to come to an agreement.

The trap is that you are giving the opposition what they think is an “out” from negotiating with someone who appears rigid and inflexible.

GC/BC sometimes works, but it is just one negotiating tactic. Walking out of a negotiation is another. As is the “one time take it or leave it offer”. Each one has its merrits and weaknesses. You have to figure out what tactic works best for your situation. GC/BC might not work with a savy negotiator. If you walk out, they might not ask you back. And you have to be prepared for an answer of “no” for the one time offer.