There will be incidents during an officer’s career where snap second decisions, and reflex actions are not only called for but are absolutely necessary. There will also be instances where time is not an overriding factor. The officer’s goal must be to lead these crisis situations away from violent conclusions and preserve lives. Absent the imminent threat to themselves or others, the primary duty of all police officers is to preserve human life.
When managing a hostage situation, statistics are clear that the more time spent talking, the less likely death or serious injury is likely to occur. This is also true when dealing with a barricaded subject, and dealing with people who are severely mentally disabled.
Time is the ally of the law enforcement officer. As time passes and the hostage remains unharmed, the hostage taker or barricaded subject is more likely to calm down. Time gives the subject an opportunity to realize what the consequences of his actions may be. Time allows officers to: learn more about the subject, learn more about the circumstances leading up to the situation, who all the actors are, isolating the subject, and containing the situation.
Although law enforcement agencies strive for quick response times, sometimes the realities of the situation dictate that the first officer on the scene must open communication with the subject. When communicating with the subject it is important to not give them a sense of urgency. Allow the subject time to think and be heard. The more the officers speak with the subject, the more informed the officer becomes, and the better they are able to manage the situation.
Listed below are active listening techniques used to build rapport and on how to speak with the subject in order to help de-escalate the situation.
• I message: An attempt to confront the subject, encourage positive behavior, and discourage negative behavior (e.g., “I feel (emotion) when you (behavior) because (reason).”)
• Paraphrase: Rewording or rephrasing of the subject’s statement in the negotiator’s words
• Emotion Label: Identification and articulation of underlying feelings
• Summary: Periodic review of the main parts of the subject’s story and the accompanying feelings
• Effective pause: Silence before or after saying something meaningful
• Minimal encourager: Brief responses (sounds) that indicate the negotiator is listening
• Reflection: Repeat of the last few words spoken by the subject
• Open-ended question: Questions requiring more than a “yes” or “no” answer, typically beginning with “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “how” (The authors discourage the use of “why” because it potentially is accusatory and confrontational.)
Source: Gary W. Noesner and Mike Webster, “Crisis Intervention: Using Active Listening Skills
Few situations in a police officer’s career combine the extreme danger to life, prolonged interpersonal dialogue under stressed conditions, fatigue, and emotional swings as do hostage negotiation. The good news is that in these situations as stressful as they may be, the statistics tell us that the success rate is over 90%.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.