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What to Do If You Are Taken Hostage

Anything can happen to police officers today. Be prepared for the time it happens to you.

January 01, 2001  |  by Cecil Pearson

Avoid Abrupt Movements

During the hostage-taker incident, continue to mentally record all events that transpire. Note the hostage-taker's general demeanor, weapons, appearance, name, etc. If a crime occurs in your presence (assault, battery, etc.), note all the specifics surrounding the incident. Think twice about attempting to intercede-this may cause you additional problems.

Overpower Hostage-Taker

Every hostage situation is different. There may be times when the hostage has the opportunity to overpower and gain control of the hostage-taker. If this opportunity presents itself, the hostage will have only one chance to carry it out. If you are unsuccessful, prepare for and expect swift retaliation.


As with the previous section, the hostage will have only one chance to execute a plan of escape. Failing will result in some type of retribution. No one can state when or where to execute an escape, but one statement should be made: If a hostage truly feels that he or she has a chance to escape, a total of 100-percent effort must be made.  Anything less will result in failure.

Maintain Morale

Attempt to display a non-troublesome and rational attitude as a hostage.  This is accomplished by maintaining high morale. In doing so, you project order and calm in the center of a bizarre event.

The Aftermath

Hostage incidents may be terminated in one of two ways. A negotiated settlement is the preferred conclusion. This occurs when rapport and trust are built between the hostage-taker and the negotiators. When this occurs, do not be surprised to be secured and transported out of the area before or after the hostage-taker is placed into custody. Remember that the rescue team may not know you and, therefore, may treat you as a possible suspect until your identity is clear, especially if you have been ordered to remove your uniform. The main concept is to follow all directions that the rescue team gives you.

The less preferred method to terminate a hostage incident is a tactical assault. This erupts when there is a breakdown in negotiations or the incident commander orders an assault. Immediately upon the rescuers' entrance, the hostage, if possible, should "hit the deck" and be motionless. Ideally, you should seek cover. If is extremely important for the hostage to comply with any and all directions issued by the rescue team. Once again, expect to be secured and moved out of the area until you are identified.

In all instances, released hostages must be interviewed and debriefed.  Valuable information may be obtained through intelligence supplied by these former hostages. Law enforcement and corrections officers serve as excellent sources of reliable information in these types of situations. After a thorough debriefing, hostages should be examined by a physician and therapist to assess their physical and mental conditions. This is imperative, based upon the future welfare of the hostage officer. There have been instances when officers have been held hostage, released and immediately sent back to work. This is not the ideal situation.

As a freed hostage, be prepared to experience a tremendous release of pent-up emotions. You may laugh or cry; you may be extremely excited or completely drained. All these reactions are acceptable and should be looked upon as normal.

Capt. (Ret.) Cecil Pearson is a nationally recognized consultant and training provider.  He is president of Pearson-Radli & Associates Inc, which provides quality training to law enforcement and correctional personnel. He can be reached at (702) 645-3166 or E-mail: [email protected].

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