Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hostage Negotiations

Last week I had an opportunity to participate as a role-player in a negotiation training program conducted by the FBI at our local police department. Police officers had spent several days in class learning how to deal with hostage and other treat situations. In my scenario I was a marine who had returned from two tours of duty in Iraq, discovered my girlfriend having an affair with my best friend, shot and killed my best friend, was holding my girlfriend hostage and threatening to kill her and myself. A police team arrives on the scene and starts negotiating with me from outside a room where I’m holding the hostage. Their goal is to keep me engaged for an hour and not killing anyone while the tactical SWAT team deploys. In their training they were taught to use effective pauses, paraphrase, use “I” statements, provide minimal encouragers through emotional labeling, open-ended questions, summarizing, and reflecting/mirroring what I said. During the day the other role-player and I ran through the scenario for four different groups, each time varying the situation slightly. The first time I demanded a helicopter. Thereafter I asked for a four-wheel drive vehicle so I could go off my myself to Montana. Twice I set a time limit, saying I would kill my hostage if they didn't get the car within forty-five minutes. I mixed ranting, swearing and shouting with going silent. One time I got mad at the negotiator and demanded to speak to someone else. I also demanded a pizza. The negotiation team consisted of a lead negotiator, a coach who fed ideas to the lead and a supporting team who wrote down what was happening and contributed ideas on what to say. In our room where I held the hostage we also had an observer who gave us ideas on how to make the role-playing as realistic as possible for the negotiation team. The biggest problem in this situation is keeping the suspect engaged without him going nonlinear. The negotiator had to constantly respond to my demands by saying that they were working on it, because they could not give in to my wanting a vehicle to escape. One of the instructors had been involved in a real situation where a man with a bomb strapped to his chest entered a local hospital and threatened to blow up himself and the hospital. She negotiated with him for six hours before he ultimately tried to move farther into the hospital and was taken out by a SWAT sniper. She had been the officer first called to the scene and worked to keep the bomber calm, engaged and not going over the edge. Fortunately, she had received negotiator training and kept the deranged man under control until the SWAT team deployed. By the end of the day playing the role of someone with post traumatic stress syndrome who had been betrayed, I was exhausted, had lost my voice and felt emotionally drained. It also gave me a keen appreciation of what our police officers go through to protect the public.

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