Blue Line


March 5, 2015  By Tom Hart

There has been an overwhelming interest and emphasis recently on continuous training on crisis negotiations to strengthen resolution skills and improve on-scene opportunities to minimize use of force.

The interest has been highlighted in reports from Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Lacobucci’s “Police Encounters with People in Crisis” (July 2014), the Ontario Coroner’s Inquest and the Mental Health Commission of Canada study (March 2012).

Case studies provide learning opportunities from real life where superior negotiating techniques and tactics have successfully handled and resolved a situation to the best possible outcome. A hostage/barricade situation at a treatment centre specializing in treating drug and alcohol additions over a short-staffed holiday weekend is a good example.

The initial communication outlined a disturbance as an argument between a resident and unidentified man. Police arrived and met a resident who saw a male suspect armed with a handgun arguing with his wife inside the building. The witness was placed in a cruiser a safe distance away for further questioning, but close enough for the officer to maintain contact with the front door and monitor the building while awaiting backup.


A registered nurse called communications from the main office to confirm the names of the husband and wife. The suspect’s wife called from inside the building on her cell phone, quietly advised that her husband had a gun and then hung up. Communication cannot re-establish contact with her cell but the same nurse answered the office phone and indicated she was hiding in fear of her life while the couple argued down the hall.

Two uniformed units and the supervisor arrive on scene and coordinate containment of the building, attempting to re-route holiday and construction traffic.

The wife calls communications again, stating “he is upset and has a gun, please help.” A male voice can be heard yelling in the background before the phone hangs up. Communications advises police that the suspect is Caucasian, age 40 and has a history of outstanding drug and robbery charges and a lengthy criminal record of drug and violent offenses. The wife is also on CPIC for drug offenses with an upcoming court date, is Caucasian, age 40, with a lengthy criminal record for drug and property crimes.

The Emergency Response Unit (ERU) arrives to take over containment and await further instruction. The incident commander arrives with the mobile incident command unit and scribe, soon followed by the crisis negotiation unit.

Communications receives a text message from the wife’s cellphone advising that her husband is holding a gun to her head and demanding drugs. The negotiator begins a text conversation, initially asking the wife “are you okay?” before realizing that the suspect was responding.

The incident commander requests a subject assessment and locks down the landlines. Once convinced to pick up, the suspect immediately advises he is looking for drugs (methadone) and/or alcohol. His level of frustration and anxiety are quickly escalating. He will seriously harm the nurse or his wife if not given drugs.

Meanwhile, CIB obtains a drawing of the building, as requested by the ERU sergeant. The incident commander is advised of the immediate and deliberate action plan, location and exit route. There is concern over the plan’s effectiveness because the suspect’s location is unknown.

Following several hang-ups, crisis negotiators make contact with the suspect, who stresses that his only demand is drugs or alcohol. He is willing to talk with the crisis negotiator to ensure he receives them, but remains agitated. An updated subject assessment indicates the suspect is expressive, agitated, desperate and unorganized.

The crisis negotiator continues to communicate effectively with the suspect in an effort to build a rapport. The suspect’s wife can be heard in the background asking for drugs and alcohol, which indicates a shift in dynamics between the couple.

A psychiatrist arrives to assist the incident commander and team. The psychiatrist’s assessment suggests a high probability the suspect will commit a violent act toward either the nurse or his wife. At this point either of the victims could be experiencing survival identification (Stockholm) syndrome.

The crisis negotiator continues to speak with the suspect using active listening skills and rapport building techniques, which had de-escalated the suspect’s level of frustration and anxiety. Negotiators realize the nurse has become sympathetic towards the suspect, as she offered advice on drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. The relationship between the suspect (hostage taker) and the nurse (hostage) becomes friendly and less threatening.

Through lengthy and at times frustrating conversations, the crisis negotiator is able to effectively reduce the demand to a small amount of alcohol for the release of the nurse. The incident commander approves the exchange of two cans of beer and awaits the tactical plan. After the alcohol is delivered the nurse follows the tactical officer’s directions and is handed over to the detective team. During this time, the suspect’s wife unexpectedly walks out the front door, where she is taken into custody by the tactical team and later questioned by investigators at the command post.

The crisis negotiator continues to talk with the suspect as his subject assessment shifts from expressive to depressed and potentially suicidal, due to the effects of the alcohol. The crisis negotiator is now challenged with saving the suspect from killing himself.

A number of effective crisis negotiation techniques were used throughout this potentially violent and dangerous hostage-taking event. Learn more on how this situation unfolded and the strategies and techniques used by attending the Crisis Negotiation Techniques Course,> taught by Canadian Critical Incident Inc. (CCII) at the Blue Line Expo, April 28, 2015 at the Ajax Convention Centre. Visit to register.


Detective (Ret) Tom Hart is a former crisis negotiator with 20 years experience. President of Canadian Critical Incident Inc., he instructs and qualifies police officers in crisis negotiators.

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