High Element Negotiation
Negotiating with someone threatening to jump from
a high place—“high element negotiation”—requires
attention to safety for the negotiator, coordination
among the negotiating team and the use of influence
and rapport with the subject.
I’m a sergeant in the Portland Police Bureau,
assigned full-time as the team leader for Portland’s
26-person Crisis Negotiation Team. Working in a
city with thirteen bridges and numerous multi-level
parking garages and buildings, our team has learned
that high element negotiation requires adherence
to the basic principles of negotiation and crisis de-escalation as well as flexibility for negotiating in this
unique environment. Here are some things we have
learned about high element negotiation over the
course of many years:
NEGOTIATOR SAFETY IS FIRST
We do not assume that the subject is unarmed
or that jumping is their only planned method of
suicide. If we know the subject’s identity, we look
into prior weapons possession history as well as
any history or statements about “suicide by cop.”
If we have concerns about getting close to the person, we may chose to communicate from a distance
using the subject’s cell phone or one we have delivered to the subject.
We almost always respond to jumper calls with
our Tactical Team Rope Cadre to provide support.
The Rope Cadre provides the option of putting the
negotiator in a harness and negotiating while they
maintain the safety line. This can be a consideration
even if we are simply on a bridge talking face-to-
face with the person. It may be that we start out
10 or 15 feet away, but over time we may transition
to getting much closer to them. Additionally, there
are times when offering a suicidal subject a har-
ness so that they don’t accidentally fall can begin
the process of working together to provide a safe
Even if our negotiators are wearing a harness, we
do not grab jumpers.
RAPPORT AND INFLUENCE ARE KEY
Everything the subject can see or hear impacts
their ability to bond with a specific negotiator.
This bonding leads to the influence necessary for
resolution. However, this influence can become
“diluted” by what the subject is seeing. For this
reason, we limit the visibility of police and fire
vehicles, and to the degree possible we keep other
police personnel out of sight behind those vehicles.
We are particularly conscious of the visual backdrop that the person sees when looking directly at
the negotiator, so we generally have the negotiator
place themselves such that the backdrop is not a
police car. We are also conscious of the movement
of personnel back and forth in view of the subject.
When personnel other than the negotiator make
eye contact with the subject, this pulls the subject’s attention away from the negotiator. For this
reason, we train our personnel to avoid eye contact
with the subject while moving from one position to
another in view of the subject.
COMMUNICATION TEAM ROLES
We deploy a communication team when possible.
This means we approach the subject with the primary
negotiator plus a coach and, if feasible, a negotiation
sergeant. This allows the negotiator to focus solely
on the interaction with the suicidal person, while the
coach and negotiation sergeant can provide support
to the negotiator as well as inform the rest of the
team about what is being said. Relevant intelligence is
then passed to the coach who shares it with the primary, whose radio is turned off.
There are times when the subject will only allow one
person to approach. When this is the case, the negotiator will simply paraphrase on the designated radio
About the Author
is team leader for
the Portland Police
A police officer for
28 years, he has
responded to hundreds of critical incidents ranging from
suicidal subjects to
individuals and hostage incidents. He
teaches negotiation-related classes at
conferences and for
individual teams and
Troy D. King
Everything the subject can see or hear
impacts their ability to bond with a
specific negotiator. This bonding leads to
the influence necessary for resolution.