NBC's "Law & Order" fans always recognize the crisis negotiator - the cop who skillfully - but cautiously - talks a hostage-taker into dropping his weapon and releasing the victim. Crisis negotiators are members of a six- or seven-person police team that includes a consulting mental health professional. Psychologists who specialize in law enforcement are forensic or police psychologists. They work with crisis negotiators as members of the team.
Crisis negotiators intervene in two kinds of emergencies: Hostage-taking and barricading. Records of hostage-taking date back to Biblical times, but crisis negotiation as a specialty is just 25 years old. Police departments send crisis-negotiation units out to end potentially explosive situations and release victims to safety. A hostage-taker could be holding a victim at gun-point, while threatening to shoot rather than face arrest. A distraught, possibly armed, self-barricaded culprit could attempt suicide or start shooting at bystanders or the police. Negotiators try to engage perpetrators in a dialogue and coax them into surrendering without using force. The U.S. National Library of Medicine's National Institutes of Health reports that the demand for crisis negotiation experts increased with a sharp rise in hostage-taking and barricade incidents during the past three decades.
Senior police officers head and organize crisis negotiation teams. They choose team members, plan and manage training, and dispatch units to crime locations. Primary negotiators interact with the perpetrator. Secondary negotiators provide backup when primary negotiators need a break, encounter language or cultural barriers, or fail to engage the perpetrator. Intelligence officers collect information on the perpetrator, victim and their families, criminal histories, residences and relationship to each other. Any information that might help negotiators intervene is collected. Communications officers stay in contact with firefighters, emergency medical units, area businesses, the media and anyone else impacted by the crisis. A sniper or expert in immobilizing perpetrators and a psychologist round out the team.
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