Hostage/barricade Management: A Hidden Conflict within Law Enforcement

By Vecchi, Gregory M. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Hostage/barricade Management: A Hidden Conflict within Law Enforcement


Vecchi, Gregory M., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


Intragency conflict between law enforcement tactical teams, such as special weapons and tactics (SWAT) and crisis negotiation teams (CNT), occurs seemingly as a result of competing paradigms on how best to handle hostage/barricade (H/B) situations. Much literature exists on the strategies and tactics employed by these teams; however, there is minimal research on how the overall paradigms of SWAT and crisis negotiation (CN) influence conflict between the teams and, more important, how their differing perspectives influence the outcomes of H/B situations.

CRISIS MANAGEMENT TEAMS AND THEIR ENVIRONMENTS

H/B situations constitute the ultimate form of conflict resolution because, if not managed in an optimal manner, death or serious injury likely can result. As such, H/B management is a very specialized activity, even within the law enforcement community, and requires special training and experience beyond what law enforcement officers generally receive. Therefore, agencies have developed specialized tactical and negotiation units to address these types of situations. Most local, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies maintain officers on their tactical and negotiation teams on a collateral or part-time basis. Due to the collateral nature of these duties, agencies usually fill positions within tactical and negotiation teams with officers who work full time in other positions within the organization, such as patrol, investigations, administration, narcotics, organized crime, or vice, depending on the size and type of the department (e.g., local, county, state, or federal). Once activated for train ing scenarios or actual situations, these individuals leave their daily routine, rally together, and deploy as required to address the situation.

Tactical and negotiation teams often are highly regarded and considered elite, both within and outside of law enforcement circles, because they tend to generate a high degree of interest from upper-agency management, politicians, and, especially, the media. A properly handled H/B situation averts catastrophe and creates "heroes," while poorly managed ones create disasters and can cost individuals their careers. Therefore, these teams usually are well funded and equipped and their members are competitively screened. For example, SWAT teams often have the best tactical equipment available, such as special rifles and handguns with laser/night sites, armored vehicles and aircraft, night vision devices, and camouflaged uniforms and equipment. In addition, SWAT team applicants usually must pass grueling physical fitness standards and possess excellent marksmanship skills before agencies select them for the team. Another example concerns the negotiation team, which oftentimes has special equipment, such as "throw p hones," (1) listening and video devices, and surveillance/communication vans. Additionally, negotiator applicants may have to compete with others to attend specialized training schools, which they must successfully complete before joining the team.

The high-profile nature of these teams, as well as the competitiveness of joining their ranks, results in team members who have a high degree of solidarity, confidence, and esprit-de-corps for their unit, especially in their shared team-related culture and perspectives. This constitutes an important factor when considering conflict between the teams because the culture and perspective of each team differ immensely. For example, tactical teams, generally paramilitary in nature, embody the core of police culture, which means reacting to situations and fixing them now. To them, the suspect presents a threat they must neutralize. In sharp contrast, negotiators prefer to take their time and negotiate with suspects in an effort to get them over their crises to end the situation peacefully and nonviolently, thereby saving lives. To the negotiators, the suspect is a human being who responds to needs fulfillment and active listening. …

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