Aug 20 2011
1. The first police officers on the scene will not be specialists. These police officers still play an important role (containing the situation, maintaining a perimeter, clearing out civilians, etc). Circumstances may force them to initiate some sort of negotiation, but as soon as it looks like the situation will not be promptly resolved, the line officers should immediately terminate negotiations and call in specialists. (Metropolitan police departments, some state police departments and the FBI have officers who have been carefully selected and trained to deal with these critical incidents). The specialists’ job will be harder if a line officer antagonized the subject.
1.1. Across the board, negotiators tend to have excellent self-control, calm under stress, communication skills, a calm and confident demeanor, strong listening and interviewing skills and the ability to work effectively on a team. They’ll have at least 40 hours of training on techniques, abnormal psychology, active listening skills, case studies and drills.
2. The main goal of negotiation is to convince the subject(s) to surrender. If that is not possible, the secondary goal is to give the SWAT team the best opportunity to rescue the captives with a minimal loss of life. To accomplish these goals, the negotiators want to:
- Stall for time. First, time allows emotions to cool down, which reduces the likelihood of hostages getting killed. Second, it may take hours (rarely, even days) for the subjects to realize how hopeless their situation is. Lastly, if it does come down to a shootout, the operation will be more successful and less dangerous if the SWAT team has had time to prepare.
- Establish communication and develop rapport. For example, the subject might be thinking about giving himself up, but he isn’t sure whether the 20+ armed cops outside will shoot him if he comes out. A negotiator could work something out fairly easily. For example, “if you’re ready to come out, the police will lower their weapons.” (By the way, if the police are willing to lower their weapons, they probably have sharpshooters ready to fire if the subject reaches for his gun).
- Gather intelligence. A secondary negotiator should check the subjects’ criminal, civil, medical and psychological records and conduct interviews with friends/family/coworkers. Is the criminal actually likely to kill his captives? What might cause an escalation? What actions could the police take now and after the crisis to make sure that there’s a long-term solution here?