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Crisis Negotiation

non-hostage/barricade with woman vitcimman with woman hostage in a business

“Ma’am, here’s what we know so far.  Suspect, John Doe of Any Address, is holding his estranged wife, Jane Doe against her will.  Apparently, Doe is an alcoholic who is prone to violence against Jane when he is drunk.  This is what led her to get the Protective Order against him.  The PO prohibits him from coming within 500 feet of her and their son, Sam.  He showed up today at her home to ‘talk things out’.  This led to an argument.  A concerned neighbor came across the street to check on Jane.  She was met at the door by John who had a pistol in his hand.  The neighbor then called us.

SWAT TeamSunrise is about an hour away. SWAT has silently contained the target location. Their stack is at the front door, ready to execute a “no-knock”, high risk warrant on a violent felon. Forced entry is made as the suspect is coming out of the bathroom toward the rear of the home. He is challenged as he retreats to a bedroom and slams the door shut. He responds to the officers’ yelling by firing three rounds through the closed bedroom door. In the blink of an eye, the warrant service has transitioned to a barricade. Now what? Invoke the Incident Command System and get the rest of the crisis management package there, of course. Best case scenario, your negotiators are 45 minutes out. How much head way can be made in 45 minutes? Do SWAT operators engage the suspect in dialogue? Why not have negotiators there already?

Are we regressing to the 1980’s when it comes to hostage-barricade management? I fear we are. What I will share with you this month is anecdotal. My gut is telling me that negotiators are at risk of being marginalized to an extent not seen in 20 years because of a failure to realize their value to the hostage- barricade management process. It is based on casual observations as well as conversations that I have had with those within the discipline at the local, state, and federal level. I can point to two reasons for this “backsliding”; selection of inexperienced decision-makers to manage critical incidents and the reduction in the number of hostage-barricade incidents to which law enforcement responds.

“Stay away from Mom”. “Where is gun?” “Afraid?” “Not gonna do it.” “What is stopping…?” “Wife here.” These are samples of actual “sticky notes” passed from Coach to Primary during a negotiation. The Coach was constantly writing on the Post-it pad and slamming a note down in front of the Primary. The Primary, sitting behind the ever increasing pile of “sticky notes” was showing the signs of note fatigue. When the Coach was questioned about this, he said, “I thought that was my job.”