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Hostage/crisis negotiations: first responders should initiate contact.

Hostage/crisis situations are highly sensitive, highly dangerous situations that occur from time to time in today's world. Many installation commanders have experienced a hostage/crisis situation at least once during their command; and at some installations, these situations may take place several times a year.

The response to a hostage/crisis situation involves a myriad of agencies and organizations--such as the installation directorate of emergency services, the garrison command, special-reaction teams (SRTs), explosive ordnance disposal personnel, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (USACIDC) (commonly referred to as CID), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other equally interested entities--coming together and working as a single unit to successfully resolve the situation. These agencies generally establish a mission command cell that is capable of coordinating and controlling the entire operation, establishing procedures, implementing courses of action, anticipating hazards and pitfalls, and executing the mission, Hostage negotiations play a vital role in the successful resolution of situations that are a primary function of CID, but those negotiations are often handicapped by a lack of contact with the subject/suspect.

During a hostage/crisis situation, the garrison commander, who also serves as the incident commander, must exercise mission command of the entire operation. The commander's decisionmaking ability is greatly improved when police, investigators, negotiators, and other involved parties can provide current and accurate information. However, in most hostage/crisis situations, valuable information--such as the number and types of weapons possessed, the number of hostages taken, the nature of injuries that have occurred, and an explanation for the motive--is extremely difficult to obtain until negotiations between the hostage negotiation cell and the hostage taker are well underway.

Simultaneously working closely with the command cell and other cells, hostage negotiators must be able to lead an extremely emotional suspect to a state in which the suspect can begin to rationalize about the situation at hand. This is not an easy task. All hostage negotiators, including CID negotiators, are trained to establish a rapport with the suspect before engaging the suspect in a line of questioning designed to elicit specific information. However, depending on the nature of the initial contact, establishing this rapport can often be very difficult. For example, when delivering a hostage phone during the early stages of a hostage situation, SRT members are masked, armored, and fully armed. In addition, the hostage phone is often thrown to a barricaded suspect through an open window. Thus, the suspect may perceive the phone delivery as a hostile act, increasing the suspect's irrational, emotional behavior and making it more difficult for the hostage negotiator to control communications and establish a rapport.

One way to minimize the perception of hostility during hostage phone delivery is for a first responder to initiate communications with the suspect. For example, a military police officer responding to a domestic violence situation could begin communicating with the parties involved and then--if one of the parties brandishes a weapon, takes hostages, and assumes an offensive posture--the military police officer, after finding cover, could continue to communicate with the suspect. By maintaining communications, the military police officer is better able to transfer the communications to the hostage negotiators, provide critical information to the incident commander, and decrease the danger to the SRT when it delivers the hostage phone.

In most situations, the hostage negotiator must make contact with the suspect through the use of a bullhorn; a vehicle-mounted, public-address system; or a hostage phone after the hostage phone has been thrown to the suspect through an open window. Any of these forms of initial contact tend to heighten the suspect's state of emotional instability, placing the negotiator at a disadvantage. The heightened emotional instability caused by these ill-advised methods of initial contact may prompt the suspect to kill hostages or take his or her own life before the hostage negotiator has a chance to open the lines of communication. If the first responder maintains communications with the suspect, it is possible to avoid--or at least decrease the chance of--the suspect reaching a heightened state of emotional instability. Hostage negotiators are then more likely to gain the trust of, and achieve a rapport with, the suspect. Once a rapport has been established, the negotiator can take control. This improves the chance of ending the situation according to the incident commander's intent.

If the first responder maintains communications with the suspect, critical information can be more quickly retrieved and provided to the incident commander. The first responder may be able to observe the number, make, and model of the weapons possessed; the number, gender, and description of hostages taken; the nature of injuries that have occurred; and the demeanor and body language of the hostage taker. This information selves as vital input to the incident commander's decisionmaking process regarding the establishment of security and the deployment of assets. And the incident commander needs this information immediately. The more information and the faster it is provided, the better the incident commander can execute the mission.

The successful transfer of communications from the initial responder to the hostage negotiator enables a smooth delivery of the hostage phone to the suspect. The hostage negotiator has the opportunity to explain the purpose of the hostage phone to the suspect and to ensure that the suspect does not become frightened when the SRT delivers the phone. If the hostage negotiator can convey the point that the delivery is meant for the suspect's safety, rather than for violence, the suspect is more likely to be receptive and less likely to engage the SRT. The transfer of communications from the first responder to the hostage negotiator also allows the command cell and the SRT to assess the situation and to plan the delivery of the phone, the release of hostages, and the medical treatment of injuries.

Unfortunately, most first responders fail to maintain initial communications with the suspect because they are not confident that they are sufficiently trained or that they have the experience necessary to effectively handle the situation. Although this may be somewhat true, there are several additional training courses available. The FBI, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and many civilian agencies across the country have developed courses designed to teach first responders maintain communications with hostage takers. First responder courses are not designed to train officers to resolve situations on their own, but they teach officers to calm the suspect for a short period of time until the hostage negotiator arrives and establishes the hostage negotiation cell and communications can be seamlessly transferred. Garrison and provost marshal commanders greatly benefit by sending first responders to these courses--even if those officers are never called upon to use the training. The FBI and CID currently offer a Negotiation Concepts for Commanders Course, which provides incident commanders, unit commanders, and provost marshals with the same resources and capabilities of the hostage negotiators. Together, the first responder courses and the Negotiation Concepts for Commanders Course provide incident commanders with valuable knowledge about bringing hostage/crisis incidents to a successful resolution.

A growing number of civilian police agencies have taken steps to train and certify first responders. Police agencies that have sent officers to this training have done so to augment existing hostage negotiation teams or to compensate for a lack of trained negotiators within their agencies. Although scientific studies to determine the effectiveness of these courses at these police agencies have not been conducted, police chiefs from some of the agencies (Dallas Police Department, New York City Police Department, San Francisco Police Department) have observed advantages of the training and have already expressed their approval.

Installation provost marshals will certainly face a hostage/ crisis situation during their tenure and should, therefore, concentrate on the most effective way to handle the situation. It is time for installation provost marshals to take a hard look at their first responders. They should assess their training and skills and seriously consider sending them to first responder training so that they may more effectively complete their mission. Obtaining training slots and requirements for first responder courses is as simple as contacting a local FBI hostage/crisis negotiation liaison through the local CID office.

By Chief Warrant Officer Three Alejandro Aucestovar

Chief Warrant Officer Three Aucestovar is an assistant special agent in charge assigned to the 76th Military Police Detachment (CID), 11th Military Police Battalion (CID), Fort Bliss, Texas. He holds a master "s degree in criminal justice administration from the University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.
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Author:Aucestovar, Alejandro
Publication:Military Police
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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