Last month I wrote about how law enforcement should dispatch negotiations teams to active violence/shooter events noting that many believe there is no role for us to play. I have been latently criticized for such thinking. In the article, I posed the question, what are we to do when the event transitions from dynamic to static? On June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Florida, we learned.
Last week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released excerpts from phone calls made by the Orlando terrorist to law enforcement. Included in them were several phone calls between him and a negotiator, the first one occurring within 46 minutes of the attack. While the Washington Post article had only sparse information about the dialogue it is clear that the Orlando Police Department’s (OPD) crisis negotiations team was engaged with him for about 28 minutes.
OPD recognized that as violent as the event was at its inception, there still was value in having their negotiators on-scene. Was a negotiated resolution probable? Statistically and historically speaking no, but for those 28 minutes, the shooter was “verbally contained”. “Verbal containment” is when we isolate the person in the crisis site with dialogue. When they are engaged with us they are not shooting or fortifying their position. It also allows us to gain at least some intelligence about what is going on within the crisis site and to assess possible motivations and behaviors. If nothing else, it slows things down. This is precisely the reason that we, on any event where someone is being held against their will, get the bad guy on the phone as soon as possible. In most cases, if they are talking, they are not killing.
According to the Post article, the call was disconnected at about 03:30 hours. He did not answer repeated call-back attempts. Hostages who were evacuated from a dressing room about an hour later told OPD that he talked of placing explosive vests on hostages in 15 minutes. This, in conjunction with no contact for an hour and the extreme violence already displayed, left OPD with no choice but to attempt a hostage rescue. To make a decision where the best outcome is as many as possible go home instead of everyone going home is a terrible spot to be in; one I would not wish on an enemy. I do not know anything about the specifics of the incident but what has been made available thus far in open sources tells me OPD and those assisting should be commended.
In this tragedy, OPD demonstrated that negotiators are an essential component in response to an active-shooter incident. As with anything else in life, it’s better to have us and not need us than to need us and not have us.
Chris Voss joined CNN Newsroom to talk about the call transcripts.