Crisis Intervention for Law Enforcement Negotiators

By Regini, Chuck | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Crisis Intervention for Law Enforcement Negotiators

Regini, Chuck, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

On March 17, 2000, an accused murderer went to the apartment of his estranged girlfriend's mother and took her, her boyfriend, and their son hostage. His only demand was to talk to his girlfriend. The police department responded and began negotiating with him. For over 4 days, the subject repeatedly demanded, threatened, and attempted to manipulate negotiators into bringing his girlfriend to the location. He had an extensive history of domestic violence and exhibited suicide and suicide-by-cop behavior. Negotiators elected not to bring his girlfriend to the location, fearing that he might harm the hostages to get revenge against the girlfriend and, subsequently, kill himself. The subject was extremely violent during the incident, often shooting out of the apartment windows at nearby special weapons and tactical (SWAT) officers and their armored vehicles. While negotiators attempted to stabilize the subject's violent behavior and keep the hostages alive during the ongoing incident, one of the hostages drugged him; he fell asleep, and two of the hostages escaped. The police department's tactical team entered the apartment to rescue the remaining hostage, encountered the subject brandishing a weapon, and shot and killed him.



This actual incident demonstrates the typical behaviors associated with crisis situations in the United States. Law enforcement agencies frequently respond to incidents where emotionally violent subjects have barricaded themselves in a location with or without hostages. The FBI's Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU) identified two distinct types of behavior that subjects typically demonstrate in hostage and barricade incidents--hostage and nonhostage. The subject's demands or lack thereof is a basic defining factor of these two types of behavior. Hostage incidents involve a subject who has taken hostages and has a substantive demand, something that the individual cannot attain without extorting authorities through the act of hostage-taking. In nonhostage incidents, on the other hand, the subject does not have any demands, or the demands are nonsubstantive. Often, the only demand in non-hostage incidents is for police to leave them alone. Nonhostage incidents also encompass single barricade situations in which the subject has barricaded himself without any hostages being present, as well as attempted suicides or suicide-in-progress situations. (1)

The overwhelming majority of hostage-barricade incidents handled by police negotiators are nonhostage. Local and state law enforcement agencies rarely respond to incidents in which a deliberate and methodical subject intentionally has taken hostages to attain a planned goal. (2) Law enforcement negotiators more often become involved in incidents in which an altercation, such as a domestic dispute, has escalated beyond a subject's control. The subjects in these incidents typically are extremely emotional, and their emotions primarily dictate their behavior. They are in a crisis state, defined as a situation that exceeds their ability to cope and often is a reaction to a real or perceived loss or a threat to what people expect of their lives. (3)

The threat could be a loss of freedom, as in the case of a barricaded subject afraid of incarceration or the potential loss of the relationship of a loved one or child, evident in many domestic dispute-related barricade and hostage situations. In all cases, the situation has caused the subject to be highly emotional, irrational, and unreasonable. The emotional reaction of the individual makes the situation a crisis, not the facts and circumstances of the situation itself.



Crisis intervention is a type of short-term psychological intervention used to help individuals experiencing temporary extreme emotions to recognize, correct, and cope with them. (4) Crisis intervention theory began in the late 1940s through work with individuals who experienced a crisis reaction related to grief and depression. …

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