What Are We Seeing?


binoculars-negotiation-analysisNegotiators are the people on whom the on-scene commander relies to provide an analysis of the behavioral and contextual factors at play during an incident in order to help the development of a strategy for resolution.  Get it right and we will get little recognition.  Get it wrong and the blame will be at our feet. It is an enormous responsibility yet we spend very little time considering, studying, and training on how to provide and articulate the analysis.

Why do we do such analysis?  Simply put, it is because most tactical actions are based on it.  Most of the time, when SWAT goes, they will be going based (in part) on our analysis of the demonstrated behavior of the hostage taker in conjunction with the high risk factors.   When we analyze or more appropriately, assess, we are asking ourselves and then others, how did the event kick-off?  Does it appear to be instrumental or expressive?  Where is the incident?  Was it specifically or randomly selected?  If someone is being held, what is the relationship between holder and holdee?  Has there been an action taken with the intent to seriously injure or kill someone?  

There are essentially two phases of the assessment process; the initial assessment of the high risk factors that are identified at the outset of an incident and the continuing assessment as the incident progresses.  In order to increase the likelihood of a successful resolution, we must accomplish the initial assessment quickly and effectively by evaluating the high risk factors present.  Using the Quick Assessment Tool (QAT), we provide a snapshot of the current risk assessment based on the inherent limited information at the beginning of an incident.  This information is usually gathered in the first 30-40 minutes of the call-out and typically before the establishment of any communication with the hostage taker.   As a result, the initial assessment may not include all of the information sought but it provides a time marker so as to measure progress later.  

High risk factors are the background characteristics and behavioral patterns of the hostage taker or barricaded subject.  The high risk factors taken under consideration are based on a list developed by the Bureau several year ago.  The more of them you answer yes to, the greater the risk to all involved.  They include:

  • Is the event hostage or non-hostage?
  • Has there been a deliberate act intended to kill or seriously injure another?
  • Does he possess a weapon?
  • Does he have prior military, law enforcement or weapons experience?
  • Does he have a history of violence or previous, similar events?
  • Has he said he wants to kill himself?
  • Does the incident appear to be planned or anticipated?
  • Did he initiate the call?
  • Is he emotional, irrational or threatening?
  • Is he refusing to talk?

Once we have completed the initial assessment, we assess the level of risk into one of three categories:

  1. Low—Typically does not involve tactical intervention
  2. Moderate—Most incidents.  Mostly reliant on the negotiations team but SWAT is standing by to react if needed
  3. High—SWAT and negotiations team working in synchronization to allow for a tactical elimination of the threat and rescue of hostages

Part two of this article will highlight assessing the different elements within the incident as it unfolds. Stay tuned!

Check out more of Derek's articles and learn about his experience

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About The Author

Derek Gaunt is lecturer, author of Ego, Authority, Failure, and trainer with 29 years of law enforcement experience, 20 of which as a team member, leader and then commander of hostage negotiations teams in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. As a member of the Black Swan Group, he is a negotiation trainer and personal coach. His training has helped leaders and their organizations increase their performance by changing the way they think about communicating one person to another.