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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

Reinforce the concept that you can, on the other hand, guarantee the fact that he will not be harmed and/or killed. During the duration of the incident, keep in mind that your goal is to keep communications open. As long as the suspect(s) is talking, most violent acts probably will not occur.

Words of Wisdom

When the fist officer on-scene makes contact with a hostage-taker, the officer is betting that his words and savvy can prevent further violence and can set the hostages free.

Exactly what happens will depend in large part on the negotiator's personal creativity, talent for persuasion, alertness and knowledge of applied psychology.

Should you, as the first responder, become a negotiator, you must come across as a helpful mediator-someone who passes on problems and demands and one who relays responses from superior officers. If you come across as sincere, chances are he'll be more receptive and cooperative.

To open communications, choose a non-threatening positive statement, such as: "I am here to help you." If the hsostage0taker makes a demand, consider countering with, "First I want to get to know you." This will:

  • Allow firsthand intelligence gathering
  • Shows interest in the suspect
  • Give the suspect an opportunity to talk about himself, thus, defusing tension and possibly revealing ways you might reach him or buy time
  • Establish that the negotiation is going to be a give-and-take situation.

As a first responder, reassure the suspect that the police do not want to kill him. While there's no "fail safe" strategy, some basic negotiation strategies are more successful than others.

Sizing Up The Enemy

Generally speaking, hostage-takers fall into four broad,, often overlapping categories:

  • Cornered criminals
  • Mentally disturbed persons
  • Inmates in jail or prisons
  • Terrorists

First responders are most likely to encounter either the trapped criminal or mentally disturbed individual. Hostage takers are often motivated by:

  • Temporary mental breakdown connected with the trauma of trying to cope with society
  • Feelings of inadequacy or a craving for power
  • Chronic and severe mental illness; and
  • Real or imagined abuses by the "system"

Terrorist hostage-takers are among the most difficult to handle and are least likely to be encountered by most officers. Terrorists are especially dangerous because they:

  • Carefully plan a hostage taking as part of their strategy
  • May be ready to die for their "cause"
  • Often have ample weapons and outside support
  • May be well trained and fearful of betraying their group

With all types of hostage-takers, buying time is one of the best contributions a first responder can make. Hostage-takers are most likely to talk sense with you, as they have a chance to calm down and reassess their own situation.

As with any type of crisis incident test, hostage incidents test the various capabilities of all those who are involved. As in many situations, teamwork is essential. Since you may become a vital link in this team effort someday, you should remember to remain alert and skilled in the necessary functions of the first officer on the scene.

Capt. Cecil Pearson (Ret.) is a consultant specializing in the areas of jail, prison, and police custodial care standards, crisis intervention; hostage negotiations; jail disorder management, and expert testimony. He is a graduate of the National FBI Academy.

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