A Vital Tool in Crisis Negotiation Skills Training
Van Hasselt, Vincent B., Romano, Stephen J., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Role-playing has become one of the most frequently used training tools employed by law enforcement agencies. In fact, recent surveys show that over 80 percent of law enforcement agencies use some form of role-playing in their training programs. (1) Also, nearly all survey respondents agreed that role-plays are valuable in a variety of training situations. They involve simulations of real-world situations likely to be encountered by personnel in a wide range of law enforcement activities (e.g., SWAT operations and interviews/interrogations). Further, role-playing has become a hallmark of law enforcement recruit selection and promotional tests.
In recent years, however, role-playing also has become a mainstay in the evaluation and training of crisis negotiation skills. With a history dating back over 30 years, crisis negotiation has led to the "successful resolution of tens of thousands of hostage, barricade, attempted suicide, and kidnapping cases throughout the world." (2) Beginning with the pioneering work of the New York City Police Department, crisis negotiation offered the first "soft" approach to conflict and dispute resolution, which was a marked departure from previous "hard" tactical methods. (3) Crisis negotiation emphasizes the "slowing down" of an incident, thus expanding the timeframe, allowing the subject to vent feelings (anger, frustration, anxiety) and, in turn, defusing a negative emotional state. To accomplish this, investigators use active listening skills that have proven critical in establishing rapport with subjects and defusing strong emotions in high-risk crisis situations.
Training law enforcement personnel in crisis negotiation can be a challenging enterprise. "... police officers are taught to take charge--to act quickly and with authority. The principles of hostage negotiation fly in the face of that training. A negotiator must fight the inner urge to 'act.' Instead, he or she must sit back and use words to diffuse critical, life-and-death situations." (4) To train law enforcement officers to resist the urge to act and employ effective listening skills can take considerable time and training; practice and repetition are crucial. While direct observation of actual negotiations is a preferred approach for evaluation and training of skill level, the risks of these encounters make such an approach unrealistic. Further, the frequency of such events usually is too low to provide sufficient opportunities for skill practice and acquisition. Therefore, role-playing is the next best approach.
Role-playing, as employed in crisis negotiation skills training, can take various forms and be brief or lengthy in format. Managers can develop detailed scenarios or keep them sketchy. Some role-play situations are based on actual incidents that have occurred, while others may be designed in anticipation of situations likely to happen in the future. The Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU) of the FBI's Critical Incident Response Group uses a combination of role-play scenarios in its National Crisis Negotiation Course (NCNC) taught at the FBI Academy to agents, as well as to law enforcement officers from all over the world. To facilitate training, the CNU developed sets of role-play scenarios adapted to hostage, barricaded, suicide, and kidnapping incidents, which occurred over the past several years that necessitated a law enforcement response. In their role as the negotiation arm of the U.S. government domestically and internationally and due to their direct involvement in numerous critical incidents over the past 25 years, CNU personnel have unique, extensive expertise in crisis negotiation and management.
One set of role-play scenarios developed by the CNU describes crisis negotiation situations in family/domestic, workplace, and suicide categories. Further, each scenario includes prearranged prompts delivered by an actor portraying a subject, which helps extend and standardize the interactions and make them more similar to real-life encounters. …