The subject of ‘hostage negotiations’, or more commonly referred to by most agencies due to its accuracy as ‘crisis negotiations’, is a relatively new police concept, beginning in the early 1970’s. Considering the City of Boston began using night watchmen in the 1630’s and centralized policing started in the 1830’s, less than fifty years is relatively new.
It is argued that hostage negotiations began in New York City during the early 1970’s. Its basic premise was a bartering type process. Negotiators responded to armed barricaded suspects and suicidal individuals and used these types of situations to further hone their negotiation skills.
As the practice of hostage negotiations grew, the Federal Bureau of Investigation also began to examine the topic and applied sound academia to it. Their research found what state and local agencies were experiencing; that less than 15% of incidents negotiators responded to were for actual hostage negotiations. The FBI found 85% of these events, not only nationally but also internationally, involved suicidal subjects, barricaded suspects, or domestic incidents. Since the majority of incidents involved people in crisis, in the mid-1990’s, many of the Hostage Negotiation Teams began to change their names to Crisis Negotiation Teams.
As the crisis negotiation teams began to evolve, they also found that bartering concepts were not the most effective way to deal with these people in crisis. It was discovered that the key to influencing a person’s behavior, in both a hostage situation as well as with the majority of crisis incidents, was through active listening skills. The FBI also recognized this and began providing training on active listening.
But what was active listening? Police officers were trained from their first days in the police academy to arrive on events and take charge. They gave orders and those who do not follow them would be dealt with accordingly. But how did it work when the person was barricaded and could not be reached without risk of injury to the officers? Or if the person in crisis felt they have nothing to live for? Did they really care about the threat of jail?
Crisis Negotiation Teams from around the United States began to receive training on active listening and how it could be properly implemented during a crisis incident. Active listening, along with an empathetic approach, allowed officers to defuse volatile incidents, and help achieve a successful, peaceful, resolution.
Prior to the 1970’s, the vast majority of these critical incidents were resolved by police departments tactically. While they were successful, it came at a cost. It usually meant the person in crisis would be injured or killed. It was also not outside the norm for police officers to also be injured during these tactical resolutions. With the implementation of crisis negotiation teams, used in conjunction with a tactical element, agencies have progressed and have been able to resolve the same type of incidents in a peaceful manner.