Blue Line


December 11, 2013  By Tom Hart

575 words – MR

CCII crisis negotiation workshop

by Tom Hart

A woman in a state of shock called police to report she had just escaped from her residence, where she had been sexually assaulted and held hostage by her former boyfriend, who was armed with a handgun.


Communications called the residence in an effort to confirm the suspect’s location; he answered. The call was important to isolate the location, but now the communicator is dealing with an armed and violent suspect, enraged because his former girlfriend was able to escape. He threatened to shoot anyone that came anywhere near the residence.

The suspect pointed the handgun towards arriving officers from an upstairs bedroom window and they took cover, established containment and attempted to evacuate a nearby shopping plaza, church and public school. The communicator had the enormous tasks of keeping the suspect on the phone, attempting to keep him calm, establishing a rapport and gathering important information to ensure the safety of responding officers and the community.

The primary objectives were to keep the suspect on the phone, away from the windows, and prevent him from threatening police. It also allowed the communicator to continue building a rapport by using good listening skills and providing reassurance, allowing the suspect to deescalate. The secondary objective was to introduce the crisis negotiator to the suspect, without diminishing the level of trust and rapport.

The victim told detectives the suspect abuses steroids and had been drinking heavily and using cocaine. The communicator called the suspect back and used steady, calm and clear language to kept him on the phone, gather vital information for responding officers and begin making a subject assessment.

The suspect hung up several times throughout the incident. The communicator called back each time, using good listening techniques and continuing to speak in a calm and reassuring voice to keep the suspect on the line. A crisis negotiator assisted with a plan to be introduced to the suspect, who was assessed as desperate, unorganized and feeling trapped. He reacted violently and with frustration over his former girlfriend rejecting him.

The objectives were met and the crisis negotiator was on the phone with the suspect, whose state of mind shifted from violent, expressive and frustrated to helpless, hopeless and threatening suicide. Effectively using paraphrasing, reflection of feelings, association, probing and summarizing assisted in the relationship and influence the crisis negotiator had with the suspect. The assessment shifted from an armed person threatening to shoot an officer to a barricaded suicidal person.

Continual and accurate subject assessment is vital. It helps define the incident and influences the tactics and resources the incident commander considers. Accurate subject assessment and strong communication skills are critical when dealing with people suffering from mental illness or emotionally disturbed and in a state of crisis.

To learn more about this and other incidents and the crisis negotiation techniques used register for The Crisis Negotiation Workshop. It is essential for police officers, 911 communicators, EMS, social workers, security staff and students.


Tom Hart retired as a detective with 32 years of policing experience — including tactical, intelligence and major crime — and 20 years as a crisis negotiator. Now president of Canadian Critical Incident Inc., he is an executive member with the Durham Region Critical Incident Stress Support Team, sits on the Correctional Services Canada Ontario Region-Citizen Advisory Committee and is certified for advanced group crisis intervention by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc.

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