The Negotiator Magazine

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Crisis Negotiating: Texas Association of Hostage Negotiators.

Bob Sherman

Police departments all over the world have highly trained officers in many unique fields. These specialties range from Accident Investigators through Field Training Officers and Drug Recognition Experts to Weapons Specialists. Tucked somewhere quietly in the middle is a group of police officers who are trained in one of the most stressful and least known specialties in police work: the Crisis and Hostage Negotiators.

These are the officers you do not normally see being interviewed on the 6:00 headline news or in a picture on the cover of your local newspaper. They are trained to work by themselves or in small teams and content to stay out of the media spotlight. The tools of their specialty are their ears and their voices.

Unlike negotiating a contract for a union or a sales deal in the business world, police negotiators are negotiating for life. They are negotiating not just for the life of the hostage or victim, but for the hostage taker and other police officers as well.

A successful negotiation will get the hostage taker to surrender and the hostages released. It is also a negotiation that keeps tactical officers from being forced into a hostile environment and put in harm’s way. All of this may happen in minutes or stretch out for days.

Police negotiators of the past were simply street officers who were thrust into a critical incident and told to handle it. They lacked formal negotiation training, but did their best to resolve the situation.

Many people believe that formal hostage negotiations had its birth in the mid-1960’s. Three critical events focused the attention of police officers on the need for training in hostage negotiating.

The first was on August 1, 1966, when Charles Whitman, an architectural engineering student in Austin, Texas, climbed the University of Texas Tower and fired on passers-by for more than 90 minutes before he was killed by police.

The second event was on September 5, 1972, when five Arab terrorists wearing track sweat suits, climbed a six-foot-six-inch fence surrounding the Olympic Village in Munich, Germany. The terrorists announced that they were Palestinians and demanded that Israel release 200 Arab prisoners and that the terrorists be given safe passage out of Germany. Less than 24 hours later, 11 Israelis and some of the terrorists were dead.

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