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Reader’s Review
John Baker

On-Scene Guide for Crisis Negotiators, Second Edition
By Frederick J. Lanceley
288pp. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2003
Hardback Edition: (US) $ 49.95

This is a book on one of the most specialized areas of negotiations: crisis negotiations.

Written by an expert in crisis negotiation, it should be of interest not only to members of the law enforcement field, but to the managers of organizations as well as negotiators in general.

Frederick J. Lancely, in a career spanning over twenty-five years with the F.B.I., served as the agency’s senior crisis negotiator and director of its crisis negotiation course at the F.B.I. Academy. During his tenure with the agency, Lanceley participated in several hundred crisis negotiations including hostage, barricade, suicide, aircraft hijackings, and kidnappings. He also served as the principal negotiator in one of the most publicized siege cases in United States history, the negotiation of the surrender of Randall Weaver at Ruby Ridge in 1992.

Crisis events change lives in moments and may involve our family members, our employees or ourselves as well as safety forces in the most difficult negotiations that one can imagine. In these desperate incidents, first-responders call for immediate assistance from trained crisis negotiators. This is a field guide for that intervention.

The crisis negotiator enters a situation in which little may be known about the person that they are about to engage in negotiations. Often, the life of the individual with whom they are about to deal hangs in the balance since most of these incidents are threats of suicide. Sometimes, however, innocent parties are also at risk. Always, the stakes are high with life and death decisions marking and determining the potential outcomes.

Trained negotiators deal with individuals who may be presenting their positions within the template of a variety of mental illnesses, operating with faculties impaired by a host of differing drugs or alcohol, acting as instruments of terrorist design or in crisis from a wide litany of other causal factors. This is a book that advises the negotiator on how to best deal with critical differences between these behavioral influences.

Complicating this high-stakes negotiation in which a gun may be literally in the other party’s hand, the crisis negotiator takes commands from higher law enforcement officials who may be under intense political or logistical outside pressures. Time must be managed to permit tactical units to plan and move into support positions, demands by the other party often carry deadlines backed by threats, health concerns of hostages must be negotiated, potential third-party contacts must be assessed and arranged, the media must be briefed. It is an endless list of essential action items that must be cared for and handled effectively during the negotiation process.

Crisis negotiation, therefore, is always a team effort with liaison required between the negotiators, the on-scene commander and tactical team leader. Success in this coordination is critical to the project and the author examines the interfaces and tensions within the process in detail. He notes, too, the inherent dangers of deviating from sound practices as in the occasional decisions by untrained chiefs and small county sheriffs to insert themselves tragically into the negotiator’s role in high-profile incidents.

Not surprisingly, many general negotiation skills underlie this specialty area. Among these is active listening. The crisis negotiator uses active listening to build rapport and trust with the subject, elicit information and, of course, work with the person towards achieving a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Open-ended questions, labeling emotions the negotiator perceives in the subject’s voice, paraphrasing the subject’s words, and providing encouraging comments that reassure the subject that the negotiator is listening are major skills in the process.

Similar to advice on negotiations in general, this guide also advises the crisis negotiator to wait for the subject to make the first offer, always insist on a quid pro quo for concessions, never set deadlines by promising something at a specific time and avoid lying to preserve credibility. The process involves creating a negotiating plan, keeping a careful log, reminding the other party of concessions made and carefully arranging the procedures for actions to be performed by each of the parties. It is a multiple issue negotiation that includes performance and procedural agreements that may well include deliveries of supplies, discarding of weapons, releases of hostages and, of course, the final surrender of the individual to authorities.

Although much is similar, much is also different for the crisis negotiator. The atmosphere is filled with tension as tactical forces support the negotiator. Lives of the subject in crisis, individuals held as hostages and law enforcement personnel on the scene hang in the balance. Communication may be along a ledge, shouted over a bullhorn into a silent building or pursued doggedly by a telephone ringing repeatedly for a person who refuses to answer.

There can be no "time-outs" in a crisis. Primary negotiators are assisted by secondary negotiators and after 12-16 hours shifts change, but the crisis negotiation must go on for hours and days without interruption. As rapidly as possible, a negotiating plan needs to be devised and then followed by the negotiators. Special rules, known from experience, go into play, for examples, the delivery of alcoholic beverages is non-negotiable as is the return of released hostages.

At its core, this is truly an on-scene handbook to the field. It covers suicide interventions, hostage negotiations, focuses on negotiating strategies for dealing with individuals with differing types of mental illnesses, drug addictions and other defining behavior factors. It discusses command structures, strategies, support equipment and procedures. Its value to the law enforcement crisis negotiator is clear. For the executive with responsibility for personnel it is an insight into the law enforcement crisis process that should prove of value in increasing understanding of the process and improving their ability to interface with law enforcement personnel in a crisis.

Crisis negotiation is a profession subjecting its practitioners to adrenaline rushes often followed by sudden and sometimes tragic conclusions and personal letdowns, exhausting stresses over long hours, acute frustrations, and, sometimes, intense isolation. It is, unquestionably, one of the most demanding of all negotiating specialties.

Readers will find the author’s log of the Ruby Ridge siege negotiations an interesting addition to the book.


John D. Baker, Ph.D.

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