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to the Saline County Criminal Justice Training Center

Hostage Negotiations for the First Responder

By the completion of this course, attendees will be able to identify the key things a law enforcement first responder should do when initially faced with a hostage situation.

Course rationale

The majority of hostage and barricade calls are first answered and responded to by uniformed officers. How the first few minutes are handled following the initial response is critical to a successful outcome. This training will address how the first responding officer can leverage those first few minutes to gain the advantage, and discuss some of the facts and myths surrounding barricade situations.

Because hostage and barricade situations are very dynamic and the particulars quite diverse, we will address the initial response without delving into motives. All you can count on is that a trained and experienced hostage negotiator may take several hours at best to respond, especially in a rural area. You may be it until they arrive and take over the negotiation. By then, the situation may be resolved, hopefully safely for all concerned.

Basic types of hostage situations

A review of hostage and barricade situations has shown that there are generally three types of hostage situations. They cover criminal, domestic and terrorism.

Criminal hostage situation

Criminal situations can include robberies gone wrong, fleeing criminals who take hostages for cover and hostage taking for profit. Hostage takers participate in either well-planned or spontaneous reactions to a situation. An experienced criminal may end up taking a hostage accidentally or as a consequence of flight. The hostages are then used as barter for escape because the criminal is trapped.

Domestic hostage situation

Domestic barricade situations have the potential to escalate and spiral out of control due to the potential for previous interpersonal violence issues and mental health concerns. Domestic situations can arise from a dispute into a hostage/barricade situation with little or no warning.

Terrorist hostage situation

While less frequent, terrorist incidents have the potential to show resurgence domestically and may provide for the most difficult of negotiations as the terrorist may engage in disingenuous dialogue in order to draw in law enforcement or ensure media coverage. Terrorism cases may be may be carefully planned with specific targets selected. The operation will likely be well thought out and rehearsed.

Isolate, contain, evaluate, and report

Upon arrival, the first responder should utilize the ICER protocol: Isolate Contain, Evaluate and Report: Isolate the scene and keep non-essential personnel and onlookers outside of the immediate area. Contain the hostage taker to the immediate area.

ICER (continued)

Evaluate the situation and incident specifics from an on-scene perspective. Report the number of hostage takers and hostages.

The next priority

The next priority will be to maintain isolation and containment of the situation. Lacking sufficient resources to immediately establish a secure perimeter, the lead officer may find that engaging the subject in dialogue will help to stabilize the situation, even if only temporarily.


By opening a line of communication the subject is provided an opportunity to focus on law enforcement and not any hostages that may be present. Statistics show that on average, better than 90% of all hostage and barricade situations are successfully resolved through communications.

Communication is critical

While it is unlikely the first responder will continue the communication from initial contact to the surrender, it is important for every officer to appreciate the importance of establishing and maintaining a dialogue.

Good communication skills are part of law enforcements job

All peace officers, regardless of tenure, experience or rank should have good communication skills. And, they have the basic ability to negotiate. While it does take a special person to become a dedicated hostage negotiator, that can leverage their training and experience to defuse some of the more complex situations, even the greenest rookie is a successful negotiator.

Negotiation is part of the job

Whether it be it the issuance of a traffic ticket, getting a person to relent and submit to arrest or simply asking someone to move along; all these acts are negotiations, although less complex than one involving an armed hostage taker holding a busload of frightened passengers, they are all negotiations.

Negotiation - a skill used daily

While the latter is a dynamic event that could result in the loss of life, as experience shows, so can a simple field contact. Outside the context of law enforcement work, we negotiate. Be it for a better deal on the price of a car, with our spouse or significant others, or children; we negotiate. Remember that the first step to a successful negotiation is communication.

Communication (talking and listening)

Communication as we know is a two part process, talking and listening. When I say listening I mean actively listening. Pay attention to not just what is being said but how its said. As sensitive subjects or event triggers are discussed, it is probable that there will be physical cues; take note of these.

Be careful what you say

Pay attention to indicators of openness and resistance. Even if this initial communication ends upon arrival of the designated negotiator who takes the lead, the information you get in these first few minutes can prove invaluable over the course of a crisis negotiation.

Where to begin building rapport

Building on the skills learned in the academy, we must remember the whole picture is made up of small details. It is these small details that make up the big picture.

Rapport begins somewhere

You may not have the time or capability to delve into the depths of the hostage takers life and the trigger event. You may have the opportunity to obtain small bits of information about them. That may will help develop a general profile and picture of who they are and whats going on in their life that led to where they are at this point.

Keep it simple

When initiating contact as a first responder; keep the dialogue simple and direct. I would suggest something along the lines of identifying who you are and what your goal is. Perhaps My name is ___________ and I am here to help.

Dont start with demands

I would advise against following up the introduction with a solicitation of demands. In most cases the subject wants one thing, immediate freedom, and will likely make that demand. If the subject issues a demand that simply cannot be fulfilled such as a vehicle, a firearm, drugs or alcohol, make that clear.

Dont be in a rush to resolve the issue

Don't be in a rush to try to resolve the issue by making promises or representations you cannot guarantee or implement. Rushing to resolve does not typically equate to enhanced survival for the hostage(s).

Advise that you have limited authority

Project that you are there to help but that you have limited authority. As discussed later, this needs to be part of your initial contact with the subject. The first responder should indicate that he can talk about things (demands and deadlines) but will have to defer any decisions on these matters to superiors.

Stabilize and calm things down

If the perpetrator insists on quick action, the first responder can cite the chaos and confusion that is usually clearly present at such situations. The first responders job is first and foremost to stabilize and calm things down. Experience has shown that "verbal containment" from law enforcement (in this case the first responder) helps prevent further violence.

Dont discuss ideology

In cases of terrorist hostage situations or religious fanatics, officers are well to avoid discussion of ideology in any form. Focus on identifying the status of any hostages and the immediate intent of the hostage taker.

Use active listening skills

This is something every good law enforcement officers uses frequently if not daily. So much so that it comes to you automatically. By using this approach, you show empathy and a desire to understand what the person is experiencing.

Active Listening Skills

The FBI and a growing number of law enforcement agencies have used active listening to resolve volatile confrontations successfully. The positive results have led the FBI to incorporate and emphasize active listening skills in its crisis negotiation training.

The following seven techniques constitute the core elements of the active listening approach the FBI teaches. Together, these techniques provide a framework for negotiators to respond to the immediate emotional needs of expressive subjects, clearing the way for behavioral changes that must occur before negotiators can resolve critical incidents.

The seven active listening skills

1. 2. 3. 4.

6. 7.

Minimal Encouragements Paraphrasing Emotion Labeling Mirroring Open-ended Questions I Messages Effective Pauses

Lets go over them one-at-a-time.

Minimal Encouragements

During negotiations with a subject, negotiators must demonstrate that they are listening attentively and are focused on the subject's words. Negotiators can convey these qualities either through body language or brief verbal replies that relate interest and concern. The responses need not be lengthy.

By giving occasional, brief, and well-timed vocal replies, negotiators demonstrate that they are following what the subject says. Even relatively simple phrases, such as "yes," "O.K.," or "I see," effectively convey that a negotiator is paying attention to the subject. These responses will encourage the subject to continue talking and gradually relinquish more control of the situation to the negotiator.


Paraphrasing consists of negotiators' repeating in their own words the meaning of subjects' messages back to them. This shows that negotiators are not only listening but also understanding what the subject is conveying.

For example, the subject might say, "What's the use in trying to go on anymore. I've lost my job of 18 years, my wife has left me for good, I have no money and no friends. I'd be better off dead." In response, the negotiator might express understanding by paraphrasing the subject's words, "You've lost your job and your wife, there is no one to turn to, and you're not sure if you want to go on living."

Emotion Labeling

Because expressive subjects operate from an almost purely emotional framework, negotiators must address the emotional dimensions of a crisis as the subject sees them. Emotion labeling allows negotiators to attach a tentative label to the feelings expressed or implied by the subject's words and actions. Such labeling shows that negotiators are paying attention to the emotional aspects of what the subject is conveying.

When used effectively, emotion labeling becomes one of the most powerful skills available to negotiators because it helps them identify the issues and feelings that drive the subject's behavior. A negotiator might say, "You sound as though you are so angry over being fired from your job that you want to make your supervisor suffer for what happened." In response, a subject might agree with the negotiator's statement, validating the assessment.

Or, the subject could modify or correct the assessment: "Yes, I'm angry, but I don't want to hurt anyone. I just want my job back." Either way, negotiators have learned something important about the subject's emotions, needs, and contemplated plans.


By mirroring, negotiators repeat only the last words or main idea of the subject's message. It serves as both an attending and listening technique, as it indicates both interest and understanding. For example, a subject may declare, "I'm sick and tired of being pushed around," to which the negotiator can respond, "Feel pushed, huh?

Mirroring can be especially helpful in the early stages of a crisis, as negotiators attempt to establish a non-confrontational presence, gain initial intelligence, and begin to build rapport. This technique allows negotiators to follow verbally wherever the subject leads the conversation. Negotiators learn valuable information about the circumstances surrounding the incident, while they provide the subject an opportunity to vent.

This technique also frees negotiators from the pressure of constantly directing the conversation. Under stress, negotiators may find they are unsure of how to respond to the subject. Mirroring enables a negotiator to be a full partner in the conversational dance without having to lead. Using this skill also helps negotiators avoid asking questions interrogation-style, which blocks rapport building.

Open-ended Questions

By using open-ended questions, negotiators stimulate the subject to talk. Negotiators should avoid asking "why" questions, which could imply interrogation. When the subject speaks, negotiators gain greater insight into the subject's intent. Effective negotiations focus on learning what the subject thinks and feels.

1. 2.


If negotiators do most of the talking, they decrease the opportunities to learn about the subject. Additional examples of effective open-ended questions include, "Can you tell me more about that?" "I didn't understand what you just said; could you help me better understand by explaining that further?" and "Could you tell me more about what happened to you today?"

"I" Messages

By using "I" messages, a negotiator ostensibly sheds the negotiator role and acts as any other person might in response to the subject's actions. In an unprovocative way, negotiators express how they feel when the subject does or says certain things.

For instance, a negotiator might say, "We have been talking for several hours, and I feel frustrated that we haven't been able to come to an agreement." This technique also serves as an effective response when the subject verbally attacks the negotiator, who can respond, "I feel frustrated when you scream at me because I am trying to help you.

While employing this skill--and all active listening techniques--negotiators must avoid being pulled into an argument or trading personal attacks with a subject. An argumentative, sarcastic, or hostile tone could reinforce the subject's already negative view of law enforcement and cause them to rationalize increased resistance due to a lack of perceived concern on the part of law enforcement.

Use of "I" messages serves to personalize the negotiator. This helps to move the negotiator beyond the role of a law enforcement officer trying to manipulate the subject into surrendering.

Effective Pauses

By deliberately using pauses, negotiators can harness the power of silence for effect at appropriate times. People tend to speak to fill spaces in a conversation. Negotiators should, on occasion, consciously create a space or void that will encourage the subject to speak and, in the process, provide additional information that may help negotiators resolve the situation.

Silence also is an effective response when subjects engage in highly charged emotional outbursts. When they fail to elicit a verbal response, subjects often calm down to verify that negotiators are still listening.

Eventually, even the most emotionally overwrought subjects will find it difficult to sustain a one-sided argument, and they will return to meaningful dialogue with negotiators. Thus, by remaining silent at the right times, negotiators actually can move the overall negotiation process forward.

Respect and understanding

All people have a need for respect and understanding. Listening is the cheapest and most effective concession we can make. The positive relationship gained through active listening lays the foundation for you to influence behavior and steer them away from violence.

Tempo of communications

In most cases, the hostage taker will set the tempo of communications. They may refuse to acknowledge your presence or could quickly latch onto you as a venue through which they can voice their grievances.

They may fail to respond

Should they fail to respond, I suggest a steady and persistent approach at establishing a line of dialogue and communication. Depending on the dynamics of the scene, a repeat announcement every five to ten minutes should be adequate.

You can accept surrender

There is nothing wrong with accepting a surrender, even if SWAT has not yet arrived. Surrender must be carefully coordinated with other officers at the scene and a clear plan agreed to by all parties. The first responder should paint a clear picture of what will happen when the perpetrator comes out.

You want no surprises

You don't want any surprises during surrender or to have the person turn back inside because they see something they didn't expect. The first responder has to provide encouragement that the person will be handled with dignity and not mistreated if he complies.

Hostages out first

Most departments want the hostages out first, with gun(s) or weapons left inside, and then the hostage taker coming out with hands up. You don't want the person being told to wait inside since we aren't ready to accept their surrender (coming out). You need to get them out when theyre ready, even if SWAT isn't.

Use non-threatening language

As you reach the state where the surrender ritual is being finalized, the current thinking is that you avoid terms such as surrender or give up as they can be taken as signs of weakness on the part of the hostage takers.

Come out

The recommended language would include terms such as come out, as it signifies movement from their current place of confinement as opposed to a complete capitulation on their part.

Terrorist Incidents are different

Mind you, the discussion we have had so far is aimed at the mitigation of criminal and domestic situations. Terrorist incidents will have a completely different dynamic and require separate discussion that is beyond the scope of this training.

Terrorist Incidents

In criminal and domestic events, there is the potential for the event to spiral out of control and end in the death of hostages and the hostage taker; this is a reality. In terrorist cases, we must acknowledge that in most cases, the intent of the hostage taker is to gain an audience before which they can then execute their fatal plot.

Assess their intent

Provided you are able to establish a rapport with the hostage taker, your next step will be to assess their intent. They will likely want immediate freedom or in the case of a domestic situation; a remedy to their perceived wrong.

Maintain focus

Your job is to neither convey their freedom nor fix their failed relationship, it is to mitigate the situation and secure the safe release of hostages.

Things to help maintain focus

In following this plan, you must recognize that you should: Avoid accepting deadlines; Keep the hostage taker talking; Listen with purpose; and Take your time and make calculated moves towards a successful resolution.

Other things to help

You must establish clear steps for them to come out alone in order to be taken into custody, or in cases of multiple subjects, one at a time. You must also ensure that hostages understand they are to remain until called out, individually. These tactics are of critical importance to avoid a rush to the door by hostages and the potential for friendly fire.

Never let them think you have the final authority

As your dialogue develops, ensure the hostage taker recognizes that while you are in-charge on the outside; they understand that you are not able to make final and absolute decisions. That buys you time when the hostage taker wants something.

Incidents involving emotionally disturbed persons

When working through hostage incidents involving emotionally disturbed persons (EDPs), recognize that one of the most important things is to encourage the hostage taker verbally vent.

Understand that as the hostage taker vents, they will go through various stages, from rage to sorrow. Your job is to move them to the next stage and ultimately towards surrender. As you communicate, make use of reflective techniques.

Remember to never argue or debate the logic of their position. It will not help move them to the next stage. You must be prepared to give the hostage taker plenty of time. The move from one stage of emotion to the next is purely individual and may require gentle coaxing.

Criminal incidents that turned into hostage situations

When dealing with criminal incidents that inadvertently morphed into hostage situations, it is important to recognize that they may not have had any intent to take hostages as they planned their crime. The incident became one through unforeseen circumstances.

As you talk the hostage taker through to surrender, it may be helpful to make clear that you are not focused on the initial crime. They should be clear that you are most interested in a peaceful resolution of the current situation. Keep a professional and businesslike context in your communications. Keep it simple and direct; you are there to resolve the hostage situation.


When it comes to negotiation and concessions, you must appreciate what is an acceptable concession, and what is absolutely not an acceptable concession. The ideal situation would provide for a concession by each party (quid pro quo).

Acceptable concessions
In general, the following are deemed acceptable concessions: Provision of food, Water, and Basic amenities. Is it good to provide tobacco products to the hostage taker?

Unacceptable concessions
It would likely be an unacceptable concession to provide: Weapons, Ammunition, Drugs, Alcohol, Additional hostages or the exchange of one hostage for another.

Practice and common procedures

Practice and common procedures reflect that the general approach of the negotiator is to establish a dialogue, which will lead the hostage taker to make concessions, be it surrender or the release of hostages.

The dialogue and passage of time can reduce anxiety and increase the chance for a successful resolution on the part of the hostage negotiator. Understand that while most situations are resolved in short order, other cases can become protracted events.

Either way, patience and persistence is key to success. While you may feel pressured to resort to a tactical intervention, the totality of the circumstances must be weighed against the decision to either continue the dialogue or move towards an entry.

A word of caution

Breaking windows, tossing rocks on the roof, or playing loud music or noise are examples of counterproductive techniques that serve to reinforce the subjects suspicions about law enforcements intentions. Such efforts may prove acceptable with a lone barricaded person; they should never be used when the subject holds hostage(s) or victim(s).

Law enforcement cannot predict with certainty whether the subject will respond violently to such actions or not. Those in command should be aware of the action imperative, the pressure that compels law enforcement departments to take action to get things going. Frequently doing nothing different or staying the course is proper and appropriate; restraint does not equate to weakness. And, never give a hostage taker a deadline. Time is usually on your side.

Safety warning

Beware of the King of His Castle mentality. A majority of subjects encountered will be barricaded in the place where they live. This is likely to evoke a strong defensive posture and resistance (Bunker Mentality). It tends to make the subject hyper vigilant and hypersensitive to perceived aggression.

Closing Comments

Officers need to appreciate their inherent negotiating skills and the need to quickly contain a hostage/barricade situation on arrival to a scene. While it is likely that designated negotiators and tactical operators will assume the lead role in a protracted situation, it is important for first responders to attempt to initiate at least a basic dialogue with hostage takers.

If nothing else, they will gain the advantage of assessing the possible motives and intent of the subjects. As training opportunities become available, I would stress the importance to officers that they expand their knowledge, skills and abilities in the area of hostage negotiations. Good hostage/crisis communication skills will help you in many other ways in your career. They will help you get more criminal confessions, resolve domestic disputes and other violence-prone encounters, even help with traffic stops.

While the number of designated negotiators is somewhat small compared to all in law enforcement, having first responders with the base knowledge will provide significant benefit during the initial response period. One source of training and professional development is through the International Association of Hostage Negotiators: A suggested list of source material is enclosed and recommended for those who wish to learn more about hostage negotiations and crisis management.

Case Critique

Time permitting, at this point we will discuss and critique some actual hostage or barricade subject cases that were handled at the local level without benefit of a hostage negotiation team, or ones brought up in class. We will brief you on the case and then discuss how it was handled.

Time for Questions

This program is based on an article titled Hostage Negotiations for the First Responder by Jonathan Greenstein which was published in the FBI Law Enforcement Online Forum Section July 14, 2011. Mr. Greenstein is a veteran law enforcement officer and criminal investigator. He has lectured and authored numerous articles on a wide range of topics including police tactics, crisis mitigation, specialized investigative techniques and domestic terrorism. He is a member of the International Association of Hostage Negotiators and has served as the representative to the District of Columbia since 2009. Thanks, Jonathan.
{Used with permission All rights reserved}

Portions of this program are based on the following articles published by the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin:

M.Ed., and Mike Webster, Ed.D. (slides 25-47); and Negotiations Concepts for Commanders , an article published in the January, 1999 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Author: Gary Noesner. (slides 7273). My thanks to the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin and the authors.

Crisis Intervention: Using Active Listening Skills in Negotiations (Aug., 1997) by Gary W. Noesner,

Recommended Reading

ATF Investigation of Vernon Wayne Howell, AKA David Koresh (book) published by U.S. Department of
Treasury (1993);

Crisis Intervention: Using Active Listening Skills in Negotiations, an article published in the August,

1997 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Authors: By Gary W. Noesner, M. Ed. and Mike Webster, Ed. D.; Hostage Negotiations for the First Responder, an article published in the FBI LEO Forum July 14, 2011. Author: Jonathan Greenstein, Physical Security Specialist, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Washington, DC - NCIS - National Security Directorate, Law Enforcement Liaison;

Hostage Situations in Detention Settings Planning and Tactical Considerations, an article

published in the January, 1999 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Authors: Kenneth Peak, Ph.D, Eric Radli, Cecil Pearson, and Darin Balaam; Negotiations Concepts for Commanders , an article published in the January, 1999 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Author: Gary Noesner;

Negotiation Position Papers A Tool for Crisis Negotiators, an article published in the October, 2003
issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Authors: Vincent A. Dalfonzo and Stephen J. Ramano, MA;

Recommended Negotiation Guidelines and Policies for Hostage Negotiations, published by the Stalling for Time My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator (book) published by Random House (Sept.
21, 2010). Author: Gary Noesner;

National Council of Negotiation Associations (2001), last amended April 26, 2009;

Stalling for Time Calm, Creative Communications in Crisis PPt. presented to the

Delaware Valley Hostage Negotiation Association, Nov. 18, 2011 by the author: Gary Noesner, Chief, FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit (Ret.), The Siege of Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, ID (1992) published by the Wikipedia Online;

My motivation to develop this course was stimulated a great deal by reading Stalling for Time My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator by Gary Noesner, Chief, FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit, (Retired), published by Random House (9/21/10). He was also kind enough to review initial drafts and make suggestions which were incorporated into the final presentation. For more information on his work or the book, go to his website: Thanks, Gary.

This course was prepared by

James Simmerman, Director and CEO Creative Management Consultants Marshall, Missouri (USA) (website) (e-mail) 660-886-7984 (direct phone 24/7) {All rights reserved. Any reproduction or use of any section of this course without written permission is prohibited by U.S Copyright Laws .}