Crisis negotiation

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The HRT, part of FBI CIRG’s Tactical Section, includes units that specialize in crisis negotiation, surveillance, and aviation support. HRT operators often call upon crisis negotiators, behavioral analysts, and other experts.

Crisis negotiation is a law enforcement technique used to communicate with people who are threatening violence (terrorism, workplace violence, suicide, etc.), including barricaded subjects, stalkers, and most famously, hostage-takers.[1][2]

There are generally three types of incidents requiring the intervention of a trained negotiator[citation needed]:

  • Criminal situations can include robberies gone wrong, fleeing criminals who take hostages for cover, and hostage-taking for profit. These situations may be well-planned or spontaneous. An experienced criminal may end up taking a hostage accidentally or as a consequence of flight. If the criminal is trapped, the hostages are then used as barter for escape.
  • Domestic barricade situations have the potential to escalate and spiral out of control. Previous interpersonal violence issues and mental health concerns can cause a domestic dispute to become a hostage/barricade situation with little or no warning.
  • While less frequent, terrorist incidents have the potential to show resurgence domestically[citation needed] and may be the most difficult to negotiate. The terrorist may engage in disingenuous dialogue in order to draw in law enforcement or ensure media coverage. Terrorism cases may be planned out and rehearsed, with specific targets selected.


Regardless of the type, each incident requires dedicated negotiation. This is often initiated by the first officer(s) on the scene.[3]

Modern hostage negotiation principles were established in 1972 when then-NYPD Detective Harvey Schlossberg, also a psychologist, recognized the need for trained personnel in crisis intervention. Schlossberg had worked on the David Berkowitz ("Son of Sam") case, and had instituted other psychological principles in police work, including psychological screening of police applicants and the use of hypnosis in suspect/witness interviews.

The first Hostage Negotiation Teams (HNTs) were often created as elements of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Teams and merely created a diversion while SWAT deployed. In modern usage, while sometimes acting independently, hostage negotiation teams are often deployed in conjunction with SWAT.

The FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit and Singapore Police Force Crisis Negotiation Unit are examples of specialized units trained in these techniques.[4]

The FBI also developed the Behavioral Change Stairway Model.[5][6]


  1. ^ Strentz, Thomas (2006). Psychological aspects of crisis negotiation. CRC Press, ISBN 978-0-8493-3997-4
  2. ^ Defense Information Access Network, United States State Department (1987). Hostage negotiation: a matter of life and death. DIANE Publishing, ISBN 978-0-941375-01-6
  3. ^ Hostage Negotiations for the First Responder (Missouri Police Officers Standards and Training Course), Jonathan Greenstein,, 2011
  4. ^ Greenstone, J.L.(2005). The elements of police hostage and crisis negotiations: Critical incidents and how to respond to them. Binghamton, New York: The Haworth Press. Currently under Taylor and Francis Publishing Group.
  5. ^ "6 Hostage Negotiation Techniques That Will Get You What You Want". 
  6. ^ "“Talk To Me”: What It Takes To Be An NYPD Hostage Negotiator". 

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