May 22 2011
The New York Times has an article on police standoffs, which I think could be useful if you’re writing a scene where a protagonist deals with something like a hostage situation and/or a barricaded gunman. For more information on this, I’d recommend checking out Stalling For Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator. For the short version, here are some ideas I’ve gathered along the way:
1. Even if you want to resolve the hostage situation with protagonists rushing in, negotiation can play a key role.
- A tactical takedown is more likely to succeed with few casualties if the police have time to prepare. For example, during the Japanese embassy hostage crisis in Peru, the police prepared by smuggling in communications equipment to hostages (so that they could learn what was going on inside), provided light-colored clothes to the hostages (so they could be easily distinguished), and scheduled their raid at a time when the hostage-takers liked to play soccer and would be away from the hostages. To practice their strategy, the Peruvian commandos built a scale building of the compound, including the tunnels they had dug to carry out the raid.
- Often, negotiators can convince the criminals to release some hostages and/or surrender. (It’s harder for hostage-takers to keep control of large groups of hostages and the police may be willing to offer food and water in exchange for releases, so there is some incentive to release some hostages). Best case scenario: Armed confrontation isn’t necessary. Worst case scenario: If the protagonists do need to execute a raid, fewer hostages will be at risk.
2. In some relatively minor cases, a barricaded gunman might get off with a surprisingly light prison sentence. In the NYT article, one gunwoman received a four year sentence after surrendering herself to police, which is less than some white collar criminals get. One gunman considering suicide-by-cop surrendered and was not charged. (I can’t even drive 30 miles per hour in a 25 MPH zone without getting a ticket). If the criminals think that they’re looking at a short prison sentence, it’s easier to convince them that there’s a future for them if they turn themselves in.
3. Some hostage-takers have resolved themselves to death (i.e. are suicidal or just don’t care), but most have not, especially the ones that take hostages in the heat of the moment. For example, if the police inadvertently trigger a hostage crisis by trying to arrest an armed fugitive within arm’s length of a civilian, the criminal is probably not looking to die and the chances for a clean resolution are relatively favorable.