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No Nonsense Negotiations

The actions of the first officer on the scene of a hostage situation can mean the difference between life and death.

April 01, 1996  |  by Cecil Pearson

In the picture-perfect world of Hollywood, hostage negotiations often have happy endings. But in the real world of policing, these crises often have fatal consequences for hostages, suspects, innocent bystanders and law enforcement officers.

Like a well-written Hollywood script, however, the goal of any hostage negotiation is to bring the crisis to a close without the loss of lives.

With improved communications systems, alarm systems and faster response times, first responders now have the advantage of arriving in the early stages — before things get out of control.

As the first arriving officer, remember that time is on your side; the longer the incident goes, the calmer it becomes. Time decreases anxiety and stress, while giving tactical and negotiating units a chance to set up, plan and initiate specific techniques.

Securing The Premises

When you have confined that hostages are indeed being held, a series of procedures must be set in motion.

First and foremost is the safety of the officer. Under no circumstances should you place yourself in danger. Seek cover. From a position of safety, attempt to block any escape path accessible to the hostage-taker. Then, immediately advise your dispatcher of the following:

  • Your exact location
  • The exact specifics of the incident
  • The exact location of the suspect(s) and hostage(s)
  • Advisements and/or warnings to responding units.

After the above is accomplished, the first officer on the scene must realize he or she should assume command of the incident until relieved by a superior officer. This entails:

  • Establishing perimeters, inner, outer
  • Establishing a temporary command post
  • Directing responding units to specific locations
  • Evacuating unaffected civilians from the area

At the outset of a crisis incident, you'll also find that civilian volunteers may try to negotiate with the suspect. Although they may claim to be acquaintances or relatives of the individual, do not allow them to make contact with the suspect(s). Their contact may aggravate and/or push the suspect into more aggressive behavior. As the first officer on-scene, you should try to control the entire situation.

Make No Promises

The actions you take during a crisis  incident may indeed set the stage for a successful outcome or a tragic conclusion. If pushed into a conversation with a hostage-taker, under no circumstances should you promise anything. If promise are made at this point in time, further negotiations may be hindered. Never agree to change places with the hostage. This serves no purpose and quite possibly may be exactly what the hostage-taker is hoping for. Most importantly, note any demands made by the suspect. Upon the arrival of the negotiators, these demands become extremely important in terms of understanding the motives and intentions of the hostage-taker(s). for obvious reasons, never supply a weapon.

As in all incidents of this nature, firearms discipline is extremely important. As the first officer arriving on-scene, tension levels are high, causing the possibility of emotional outbursts from all those involved. From a negotiator's viewpoint, words can always be taken back-bullets can't.


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