Every Officer a Negotiator

By: Jonathan D. Greenstein

We all have ingrained into our collective psyche an image of what happens once a situation turns into a hostage/crisis event; the police line is set, marksmen take up positions, the media arrives and soon the negotiator in on scene. What follows in a protracted give and take dialogue between the negotiator and the hostage taker. While there is some truth to this Hollywood inspired image, what I have always hated to see is how uniformed officers are portrayed as incapable of engaging the hostage taker in the opening dialogue or even moving towards a successful resolution of the crisis. As a member of the International Association of Hostage Negotiators (IAHN) who has served as a representative to the District of Columbia for several years, I have taken every opportunity to share my experiences related to the art of crisis negotiation. This is a subject that I am quite passionate about and one that I feel that every officer should have an exposure to. I have always expressed my feeling that all cops, regardless of tenure, experience or rank are inherently good negotiators. While it does take a special person to become a dedicated negotiator that can leverage their training and experience to defuse some of the more complex situations, I can show you that even the greenest rookie is a successful negotiator. Be it the issuance of a traffic ticket, getting a person to relent and submit to arrest or simply asking someone to move along; all these acts are negotiations, albeit less complex than one involving an armed hostage taker holding a busload of frightened passengers, they are all negotiations. While the latter is a dynamic event that could result in the loss of life, as experience shows, so can a simple field contact. Outside the context of police work, we negotiate. Be it for a better “deal” on the price of a car, with our significant others or children. We negotiate. Remember that the first step to a successful negotiation is communication. Communication as we know is a two part process, talking and listening. When I say listening I mean actively listening. Pay attention to not just what is being said but how. As sensitive subjects or event triggers are discussed, it is probable that there will be physical cues; take note of these. Pay attention to indicators of openness and resistance. Even if this initial communication ends upon the arrival of the designated negotiator who takes the lead, the information you garner in these first few minutes can provide invaluable over the course of the crisis negotiation. Building on the skills we learned in the academy we must remember that the whole picture is just as important as the small details. It is these small details that make up the big picture after all. While you may not have the time or capability to delve into the depths of the hostage takers life and the trigger event, you may have the opportunity to garner small bits about them that help develop a general profile and picture of who that are and what is going on in their life that led us to where we are.

I strongly encourage law enforcement professionals to attend a basic hostage and crisis negotiator training program to at the very least gain a better understanding of how negotiation works. Perhaps after attending a basic course, some officers will find they have the interest and capability to continue in their professional development and strive to become designated negotiators. For further reading and information about the International Association of Hostage Negotiators, you are welcome to visit their website at http://www.hostagenegotiation.com/. The IAHN website was designed to help bring together those wanting to share their experiences, information about their profession, and to help others learn the art of negating. Readers are invited to visit the IAHN site and explore its contents. While there, if you are interested in membership, several options are available including special programs to military veterans. If you become a member of the IAHN, you will receive access to areas of the site that are not open to the public, to include after-action reports, analysis and more.

About the Author: Jonathan Greenstein has been involved in law enforcement and public safety for over fifteen years, having served as a patrol officer, field training officer, watch commander and criminal investigator. A graduate of numerous advanced training programs to include Hostage and Crisis Negotiations, Active Shooter Response and Tactical Operations; he applies his professional experience and training to the development best practices, policy and in the law enforcement oversight and advisory role. His most recent publications include articles related to officer safety, risk assessment and monographs that identify cues of terrorist activity and radicalization indicators. He currently serves as the District of Columbia representative for the International Association of Hostage Negotiators. He may be contacted by email through: jonathan.greenstein@leo.gov

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