Training for Crises in Law Enforcement: Hostage Negotiations

by Elizabeth Hall
One of the most important tools in law enforcement today is utilized in hostage negotiations when someone is holding someone against their will.  In our case, the offender has killed his next-door neighbor, and has taken his son, wife, and a family friend hostage.  He has barricaded himself in his house with the hostages and made the unrealistic demand that he receive immunity for the murder.  This paper will describe the steps that are taken for the hostage negotiator team’s successful completion of a positive outcome, and the roles each team member plays in order to achieve that outcome.
Training for Crises in Law Enforcement: Hostage Negotiations
One of the most important roles of the police psychologist has to do with crises and hostage negotiations.  Hostage negotiations have been called the most effective tool that law enforcement has in their arsenal.  In their roles as police psychologists, they tend to take active roles in situations such as these, although these roles tend to involve more in the preparation and training of the crisis negotiation team, advising them during the crisis, and assessing the mental condition of the hostage taker (Kurke and Scrivner, 1995).  There are roughly seven positions that need to be filled during an incident response according to Van Aelstyn (2007) and all have particular roles to play.  Those roles consist of the primary negotiator, the secondary negotiator, the chronographer, team leader, assistant team leader, an intelligence member, and the mental health consultant. 
In this paper, we will discuss one particular incident like this, and describe in detail what type of incident this is categorized as, what category the hostage taker fits into, and the optimal role of the negotiator.  We will also discuss the statistics of this situation having a positive outcome, as opposed to a negative one, what course of action the hostage negotiator should take, and prepare a probable hypothesis describing the offender’s mental and physical state, and the likely outcome of the crisis.  We will also go over what role the psychologist should perform, because the better trained that officers are, the more likely it will be for them to deliver a positive outcome (Kurke and Scrivner, 1995).
Incident Description
Approximately 3:15 pm on Friday Mrs. Hall, the agency psychologist is called to the scene of a crisis intervention in which there seems to be a 42-year-old man holed up in his house with his wife, son, and a family friend.  This house is in a residential area, with a middle school and a public library about three blocks away.  The man has already murdered his next-door neighbor, and is threatening to kill the people in the house if his demands are not met.  The demands consist of complete immunity for the murder, a case of beer, and fast food. He has informed law enforcement that “something will happen” if his demands are not met.
Type of Incident
According to Noesner (1999) the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), only has two types of incidents no matter the criminal history, mental status of the offender, or reason for the incident.  These are classified as hostage situations , and non-hostage situations, however the difference does not lie in whether or not there are people in direct danger of the offender or not.  Instead, the difference can be found in the demands of the offender.  Noesner (1999), also goes on to say, that recognizing the differences between the two can be the deciding factor in a successful crisis intervention negotiation and an unsuccessful one, and this issue is a large part of what negotiators receive. 
The Tucson Police (2011) Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team is responsible for high-risk crises in the city of Tucson.  They state that there are eight general high-risk situations in which they are called out.  These are, “hostage situations, barricaded suspects, suicidal subjects, high risk search warrants and raids, high risk arrests, VIP protection details, counter sniper operations, and other situations where the likelihood of armed resistance appears great”, Tucson Police (2011).  By these standards, this offender would fall under the category of barricaded suspects.
As with most things, the devil is in the details, meaning that even though this particular offender does have his son, wife, and family friend stuck in the house with him, this would still be classified as a non-hostage taking situation.  The reasons for this classification, holds Noesner (1999), is that this hostage taker type has a completely different reason for taking hostages.  That type of offender will hurt the hostages, however it is not in their best interest to do so, as the purpose for them are so that the offender has leverage, and is mostly just interested in having his demands met. 
This particular offender has just killed someone, and is making demands that law enforcement cannot comply with (immunity for the murder), and the people that he has in the house, because of the relations to the offender would be called victims, not hostages. It would seem that he is reacting emotionally and irrationally.  In reviewing criteria from both the FBI (Noesner, 1999) and the Tucson Police (2011) site, because of these reasons, the offender is a non-hostage taker who is a barricaded suspect.  You see, if he was a hostage taker he would demand transportation from the scene, money, etc, and he would not have killed his neighbor.  Instead his main demand is impossible for negotiators to meet, as law enforcement does not make it habit of granting immunity for a murder charge.
Category of Hostage Taker
According to Fuselier (1988), there are four basic types of hostage takers, activists/terrorists, criminals, incarcerated people, and the mentally ill.  In consideration of our offender, it seems that since he murdered his neighbor before barricading himself in his house, then he would have to be categorized as a criminal.  Therefore, in order to recap, our hostage taker has barricaded himself in his house, with his son, wife, and a family member, and is demanding that he is granted immunity for the murder he committed, fast food, and a case of beer.  With this in mind, we will now look at how our negotiator team handles the situation.
Optimal Roles of Negotiator Teams
In any hostage scenario, the negotiator only plays one of several parts needed to facilitate a successful outcome. Units usually contain three to six members, however, Van Aelstyn (2007) along with Texas Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Program report seven, and they all have roles to play. Each member of the team, picked individually, to function as a unit has undergone rigorous training to learn about how to handle these situations.  Most teams cross train their members (Van Aelstyn, 2007).  
 The first team member called, the Primary Negotiator is the only one that actually talks to the hostage taker, and their sole responsibility is to be the main hostage negotiator according to Wolmer (2011), Sergeant, in the Washington County, OR Hostage Negotiations Team.  The Second Negotiator, also known as Coach to the team in Washington County, functions as the go between for the rest of the team and the Primary Negotiator.  This member also listens to the interaction between the Primary Negotiator and the hostage taker, takes notes, and relays the information back to the rest of the team.  The next member of the team is the Chronographer, or in Sergeant Wolmer’s (2011) Unit, the Scribe, who writes every detail of the operation down. 
 The Scribe performs as the hub of information for the team’s Assistant Leader who oversees intelligence and the negotiation overall, making sure the operation runs smoothly and functions as the first line supervisor as described by Wolmer (2011).  The Team Leader is responsible for serving as the link between the Tactical Unit Command Post and keeps communications open between both sides. The Intelligence member of the team is responsible for all the gathering of information, including talking to family, friends, employers, etc to gather all that they can learn about the hostage taker and the events leading up to the crisis. They are also charged with filtering all of the information that goes back to the Assistant Team Leader to be passed on to the Tactical Unit and the Secondary Negotiator. The last member is the Mental Health Consultant, or of the agency has one, the Police Psychologist.  Their role is to assess the mental state of the hostage taker, and to advise the team on psychological issues, which may trigger a negative outcome of the situation, notes Wolmer (2011). 
Statistics of Likely Positive Outcome
As stated by Kurke and Scrivner (1995), when looking at examples from around the country, from studies lasting over a decade the results are illuminating.  When hostage negotiation teams are used, it seems to be up to 99% of the incidences are resolved without loss of life.  When ending these situations with the tactical team was found to have a 78% chance of fatalities, and if it was broken down further, as they have, if the tactical team uses chemical weapons the number goes down to 50%. On the other hand, if they choose to use snipers or other means to control and direct the gunshots, resulting in 100% chance of injury or even death.
When agencies use a method called the contain and negotiate method, the statistics go down to less than 1% (Kurke and Scrivner, 1995).  A study in Chattanooga, TN conducted over a 15-year span showed that when they used trained negotiators there were only three incidences in which the crisis ended in the suicide of the offender.  According to Kurke and Scrivner (1995), and the results of this study, if trained negotiators are utilized, there is a 100% probability that the incident will be resolved with non-lethal force. 
Dr. Miller (2007) holds that using suppression and finding the middle ground methods of conduction operations produces a 95% result of positive outcomes.  Remember, that means no loss of life.  He goes on to say that, operations have three main dangerous areas where things are particularly dangerous.  These are within the first quarter hour to the first three quarter of an hour where things, are jumbled, and not running smoothly, at the most dangerous.  Next is the time that the hostage taker is surrendering, because they are now apathetic, emotionally charged, and liable to hurt themselves or others as a way to suicide. Tactical assault is last but not least, but provides 100% chance of loss of life, and if this method is utilized it means that all hope of negotiations have been used and failed, or that the hostage taker has done something to prod the use of force such as killing a hostage says Dr. Miller (2007).
Course of Action in Situation
Kurke and Scrivner (1995), advise that the first thing to do in a crisis such as this would be to open up communications with the hostage taker.  While this is happening, the Intelligence officer can be checking for drug and or alcohol use by the offender and the mental health member can be debriefing any hostages that might be released by this time.  The first responders and anyone else that was present at the onset of the incident.  While all of this is happening, the team should also be activating the tactical unit, finding usable intelligence about the hostage taker, and the location of the standoff, and identify which demands that the team might be able to negotiate, and which are not(Kurke and Scrivner, 1995).
The team should be establishing a command post, calling out reserve officers if the situation warrants it, adjusting for the time of day this operation is happening, and securing emergency services such as the fire department and ambulance service (Kurke and Scrivner, 1995).  Another important detail is to establish invisibility for the mobilized forces, as this is something that the police negotiator might not want the perpetrator to know what is going on.  As you can see, this is a lot to do, and we are not finished with the list yet. The mental health advisor should have evaluated the hostage taker’s mental state, and it is important to get the media under control, because it is likely that the offender has access to a television and or a computer (Kurke and Scrivner, 1995). 
Along with all of this, the biggest tool that the negotiator can use is stalling.  Tensions and feelings diffuse over time, and this makes it more likely that the offender can be reasoned with (Kurke and Scrivner, 1995).  Along with the command post, a separate place should be set up for the negotiators, that is away from everything else and they should be directing telephone communications between all for efficiency.  All perimeters must be under control, along with establishing an inner perimeter that includes tactical officers as well.   Assign the unassigned officers, reserve forces, or anyone else that is reliable at the scene to the outer perimeter, and the unit must also make sure that details are available to everyone involved along with any technical resources that the agency has available (Kurke and Scrivner, 1995). 
First responses needed during a barricade situation are to make sure that police has everything they need, respond to the media and provide what they need, consider whether to reroute utilities, and act accordingly, and notify the fire and rescue teams to be on standby while keeping them informed on the progress of the situation.  Crowd control and any traffic matters that need to be attended to should be taken care of immediately (Kurke and Scrivner, 1995).  This team also needs to have a plan to make sure that any politicians and or other officials are on the scene are taken care of, and to be thoughtful about the impact of the situation on businesses and residents in the vicinity of the crisis.  The first responders to the scene (Kurke and Scrivner, 1995) will perform some of these duties.
Probable Hypothesis of Hostage Taker’s Mental State, Symptom State
What we know about this offender is that he has committed the murder of his neighbor, is holding his wife, son, and family friend hostage, and is making a demand that cannot be complied with, and that he is threatening that something bad will happen if he does not get what he wants soon.  Because of the victims chosen, the neighbor, and his own family, apparently the perpetrator felt intense anger towards the neighbor. According to Noesner, (1999), non-hostage offenders proceed in ways that do not make sense, often self destructive, and emotionally charged.  Our offender would be upset, nervous, possibly scared, and not thinking straight.  He would also be holding his wife intending to harm her rather than for leverage, and have demands that are not likely to be met.  Because all of this just happened, it is likely that the offender will calm down with time and will be able to think more clearly.   

Likely Outcome of Crisis
In the case of our hostage taker, we know that his main demand is not feasibly going to be met.  As stated before, the criminal justice system does not usually provide immunity, when they already have a confession, not to mention the current actions will produce charges of their own.  Noesner (1999) recommends that law enforcement respond with “active listening skills, patience and understanding, offer non-violent choices to the offender, be generous with the negotiation, and stay in a low profile controlled model of containment, all while establishing a relationship with the offender and using time and the negotiator’s skills to diffuse anger, calm the feelings of the hostage taker.  If these steps are handled correctly, then the offender will likely calm down and eventually surrender, without the loss of life, although it will probably take hours, as he is obviously distraught.
Roles Police Psychologist Should Play for Crisis Preparation
Kurke and Scrivner (1995) state that the role of the police psychologist is to assess the needs of the agency, which in this case would be the team, and convince management that this program will be cost effective and produce results.  The type of training that is usually required in this facet of police work are called informational and skill training topics.  These consist of, “handling the mentally ill, crisis management, cross cultural training, cross cultural awareness, peer counseling basic training” (Kurke and Scrivner, 1995 pg 271-272, par 2-13).  In addition to these, there are “communication training, psychological indicators of behavior, hostage negotiation training, and critical incident performance” (Kurke and Scrivner, 1995 pg 271-272, par 2-13).  

Because it is statistically proven that there are significant improvements in the rate of loss of life in critical hostage situations, it is imperative that agencies understand the importance of the right kinds of extensive training in order to ensure almost 99% positive outcomes in hostage taker incidents. The team must also work well together and perform their jobs quickly and efficiently like a well-oiled machine for maximum effectiveness.  They must quickly assess the situation; decide which type of hostage taker they have, and use patience and understanding to gain a rapport with the offender.  The way that the police psychologist uses his field to help the agency in these situations is to find suitable training to prepare the team, convince management that the programs are necessary and cost effective.  They also must assist with assessing the mental status of the offender, advising the negotiators on what course of action would be best to take for the current situation, as every incident is different, and so is each hostage taker.  With the right training, research has proven that this is the most effective way of handling situations like this.

Fuselier, G.D., (1988).  Hostage Negotiation Consultant: Emerging Role for the Clinical Psychologist.  Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 1988, Vol. 19, No. 2, 175-179.  Retrieved From: http://www.tlu.ee/~arno/tunnel/pantvangilr.pdf
Kurke, M.I, & Scrivner, (1995).  Police Psychology Into the 21st Century.  Psychology Press.  Taylor and Francis Group.  New York.
Miller, L., Ph.D., (2007).  Hostage Negotiations: Psychological Strategies for Resolving Crises. Retrieved From: http://www.policeone.com/standoff/articles/1247470-Hostage-negotiations-Psychological-strategies-for-resolving-crises/  this source is credible because the author is clearly listed, along with his place of employment in government agencies, and his training more than qualifies him as an expert.
Noesner, G.W. M.E.d (1999).  Negotiations Concepts for Commanders.  Retrieved From: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/fbi/negot_cmdrs.pdf
Tucson Police, (2011). Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT).  Retrieved From: http://cms3.tucsonaz.gov/police/swat
Van Aelstyn, M.A., (2007). Texas Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics Program.  Vol 14, No 4.  Crisis Negotiation Teams.  Sam Houston State University.  Retrieved From:   http://www.lemitonline.org/telemasp/Pdf/volume%2014/vol14no4.pdf
Wolmer, M. (2011).  Sergeant, Washington County, Oregon Hostage Negotiations Team.  (Personal Communication 8/4/2011)

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