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Reader’s Review, March 2012

By John D. Baker

Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation,
2nd Edition

By Thomas Strentz Ph.D.
367pp. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2012
Hardback (USA) $69.95

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Thomas Strentz is retired after many years in the FBI in which he served as a member of its Behavioral Sciences Unit, a negotiator and instructor at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. From the 1970’s through the later 1980’s, Dr. Strentz designed and directed the FBI Crisis Negotiations program at the Academy. He is a frequent contributor to the literature on crisis/hostage negotiation and is especially well-known for his work on the Stockholm Syndrome.

Dr. Strentz holds a master’s degree from California State University, Fresno and a Ph.D. from Virginia Commonwealth University. Unquestionably, he is an expert in crisis /hostage negotiation.

This second edition of Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation builds upon his original offering (2006) by adding new chapters on such topics as first responders and hostage survival as well as many case studies to better illuminate the book’s many subject areas. It is an extraordinary overview of a major area in crisis/negotiation and a true on-scene reference manual for the crisis/hostage negotiator.

Dr. Strentz has made the definition of the role of the crisis negotiator a central core of this work. Underpinning this work with a careful definition of the craft is essential.

This is a specialty area of practice that continues to be misread and misdirected in the field. Despite all the years of its practice, some members of the law enforcement community as well as the general public still struggle with its true role in an incident. And yet, the message of this book is that by working together, tactical and negotiating teams resolve most crisis situations without violence.

Dr. Strentz makes the crisis/hostage negotiation mission crystal clear to his readers from the beginning of this work. The goal of hostage negotiation, he writes, is “…the preservation of human life” (p.31). He then, reinforces that central focus of the crisis negotiation effort by adding that the goal of the enterprise “…is not to save property, money, or time and in so doing jeopardize our primary life-saving objective” (p.31).

To further clarify the life-saving mission of the crisis negotiation process, Strentz cites the legal opinion in the case of Downs vs. United States (1975 in which the judge states that “a reasonable attempt at negotiations must be made prior to a tactical intervention” (p.51). Almost four decades since this ruling, this message remains both true and vital to the mission of the management of crisis incidents.

Beyond this affirmation of the role of crisis negotiation, the book provides a virtual on-scene manual for the negotiation team as well as the student of this part of the negotiations field. Readers will find descriptions of maturation, mental and personality disorder manifestations, the negotiator is likely to encounter in a crisis negotiation. Included, for examples, are guidelines for recognizing, talking to, and negotiating with a wide variety of hostage takers.

Dr. Strentz presents descriptions of individuals who may exhibit behaviors as varied as those of adolescents, inadequate personalities, anti-social personalities, paranoid schizophrenics and others within the broad range of maturation or mental and personality disorders including the suicide by cop figure. For the hostage negotiator, this is vital information, of course.

Of vital importance to the practitioner, of course, are the author’s suggestions on how-to talk and to negotiate with persons who represent each of these types. The author provides guidance on judging the volatility of the situation, methods of controlling the interaction, etc. It is an inclusive, targeted, and comprehensive work on crisis negotiation.

Highly recommended.

John D. Baker, Ph.D.

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The Negotiator Magazine (March 2012) Copyright © 2012 The Negotiator Magazine