Crisis Negotiation Training
This is the first test for the negotiator. In a crisis situation, the instinct is to rush in and save. But that is the
last thing the negotiator should do.
When a crisis occurs, inevitably multiple entities will
be involved: a sheriff’s office worried about limited
manpower resources; a mayor worried about publicity and financial resources from the town; the press
wanting a good story. An error in talking to the press
can lead to faulty information given to the public,
followed by alarm and confusion; collisions on infor-mation-gathering can lead to disorder and infighting;
insufficient information or something gone wrong
between tactical and the negotiators can end up in a
Since multiple agencies are likely to be involved (FAA,
town officials, local law enforcement, the tactical team
and other rescue personnel), it is essential that everyone share the same objective, that there be a plan for
resolving the crisis, that each person knows his or her
role in the plan, and there be a procedure for resolving
differences. This eliminates confusion that can badly
disrupt a fast-moving crisis.
When negotiations are taking a long time rescue
personnel may become uneasy or impatient and make
moves that are unplanned-for, disturbing the negotiation in progress. The background work can seem
tedious, tasking, and away from the “real action” but it
is the foundation for success.
The tactical teams and negotiators have converged on the scene. The area is cleared and the
perimeter secured. The negotiators’ next actions
are the results of months, days and years of high
intensity training and experience.
Training prepares law enforcement on the front lines
of the most difficult crises with the confidence and
skill to do their work. Deborah McMahon and Wayman
Mullins both train law enforcement across the country. McMahon is a crisis negotiator and retired Special
Agent of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division.
Mullins is a hostage negotiator, a member of the Hays
County Sheriff’s Office/San Marcos Police Department
combined team, and now Professor of Criminal Justice
at Texas State University. He is a co-author, with Dr.
Michael J. McMains, of Crisis Negotiations, a classic
text sometimes referred to as “the negotiator’s bible,”
and he created and hosts the Annual Crisis Negotiation Competition. This article is based on conversations
with them about their training work.
Training in this area is not something you can read
about and then do. It takes skill and practice, practice,
practice, which is exactly what negotiators in training get.
For example, a negotiator might have two trainees
do active listening training by going to the front of the
room, where there are two chairs, back to back. As
they sit down, each is given a script. The bad guy’s
script says, “You are a salesman who has just been
fired from your job. You come home early and find your
wife packing a suitcase: she is leaving and taking the
children with her. You grab a kitchen knife, hold it to her
throat and tell her to lock the door. A neighbor hears
the screams and calls the police.” The good guy has
this script: “You’ve got a call to this address.”
As the SWAT team clears the perimeter, the
negotiation team sets up a position where they
can talk to the woman without being too threateningly close. “Ma’am, I’m negotiator with the
Middle City police department, and I’d like to help.”
About the Authors
is a former staff
member of ACR,
with Dr. Mitchell
Hammer, of ACR's
Section. She is
of the section.
is a retired Special
Agent of the U.S.
Division. She has
and is a nationally-recognized expert
on crisis negotiation
Lynne Kinnucan with
and Wayman Mullins
You are in the waiting room of the airport in a small Midwestern city. Sitting on the floor is
a man, hunched over, with a cap pulled down over his eyes. He has luggage and two small
children. A woman suddenly starts shouting angrily at him. An argument ensues and you
hear a loud BANG! The man slides to the floor and the woman takes off at a run, carrying
the smallest child and holding the other one by the hand. For a moment, everything freezes;
you hear no sound, see no movement. Then, pandemonium. Passengers start screaming,
security guards are running after the woman. The police are called.
Later you learn that the woman has barricaded herself and her children in another
part of the airport. She has a gun and she is not afraid to use it. Intelligence gathering
discovers that she has been suicidal and depressed.