Blue Line

Contain, isolate and negotiate in critical incident

February 10, 2014  By Tom Hart

by Tom Hart

A concerned citizen calls 911 after seeing a woman run from a house. She wasn’t dressed appropriately for the weather conditions and appears to be in some kind of distress. Another 911 caller reports a female laying on the sidewalk in apparent distress.

Police, fire and EMS respond. It is quickly learned the woman had been shot in the abdomen area. She is going into shock but is coherent enough to tell officers her boyfriend shot her during a heated argument. Her boyfriend is armed with a rifle, she tells officers, and she fled in fear for her life.

Police immediately form containment on the two story house, which is situated in an older area of town.


The duty inspector is notified, a critical incident command call out is activated and a command post established. The tactical team relieves the uniform members who had secured containment on the residence.

Three crisis negotiators, a primary, secondary and liaison, arrive and immediately prepare to make the call while also gathering all available information to develop the very important subject assessment.

There is pressure to call as soon as possible to help isolate the suspect and prevent the spread of the threat. The primary objective is to contain, isolate and negotiate.

The crisis negotiating team quickly establishes a strategic plan based on the information on hand, then call the residence. A primary crisis negotiator gets the suspect on the phone, introduces himself by his first name and says that he is a police officer.

The introduction and opening dialogue is critical for a successful and peaceful resolution and vital for making the subject assessment, which must be made early. It helps define the incident and assists in determining the crisis negotiating team’s strategy. Subject assessment is dynamic and must be on going and constantly reassessed.

Effective communications and active listening skills are fundamental in building a rapport and developing trust with the suspect. The primary negotiator remains calm, clear and unchallenging while the suspect expresses his frustration over his girlfriend and their relationship. He is highly emotional and agitated. The negotiator allows the suspect to vent his frustrations and anxiety, while listening carefully for emotional clues to help develop the subject assessment and a negotiating strategy.

The conversation lasts several hours, with many hang ups by the suspect. The negotiator’s patience and tenacity allows the suspect to become less agitated and his level of emotional outburst (anger, frustration) decreases. By venting his frustration he is able to process his thoughts, lengthening the conversation.

The quality of rapport established with the suspect allows him to disclose personal information about himself and the relationship with his girlfriend. This information is valuable for the negotiating team to list hooks, triggers and a strategy for a coming out plan.

The flip side to the trust and rapport created by the negotiator is that the suspect wants to share a drink of vodka with him in his residence. This request turns into a demand. The suspect continues to drink and says that if the negotiator won’t drink with him he will come out to the street with his loaded rifle and confront the police. This is a challenge for the negotiation team.

Demands should never be invited, ignored, dismissed or misunderstood. The negotiator changes the demand to a friendly request for a drink, then tells the suspect he does not have the authority to agree to any requests, as the incident commander makes all the decisions.

The negotiator effectively takes the conversation in a different direction, focusing on the suspect’s other needs. This prolongs the conversation and allows the incident commander and tactical team sergeant to review and prepare for other options. A nearby school is locked down, traffic rerouted, businesses closed and media demands apply pressure to the incident command team, particularly the crisis negotiation team.

Learn more about the crisis negotiation tactics and techniques used and the outcome of this volatile and challenging call by attending my crisis negotiator course April 29 at the . Visit to register or for more information.

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