the Hostage Calls
Hostage calls are generally either calls from the hostage taker
himself or from someone calling to report a hostage situation. The
telecommunication is the first point of contact, and must fulfill
the role of negotiator until one arrives. In this article, we will
explore some techniques for gathering information, and handling
a telephone call from a hostage taker. It will not make the
telecommunicator a hostage negotiator – that takes training and
experience- but it will enable the telecommunicator to draw from a
body of knowledge to process the call properly.
There are two objectives in handling hostage situations. The
objective is to preserve life. This includes the lives of hostages,
personnel, and even the hostage taker himself. The secondary
objective is the
apprehension of the perpetrator, and the recovery of property. It
is important to
keep these objectives in mind when handling hostage calls.
There are a few principles to keep in mind as well. The hostage, as
person, has no value to the hostage taker other than as a tool to
get what he
wants. However, it is important to realize that the hostage taker
has just as much
at stake as authorities do to not let the situation get violent.
Getting killed is not
going to help the hostage taker unless suicide is his motive.
There are three crucial variables in hostage situations. These are
information and time-delay. The hostage taker is seeking power over
over freedom. Perceived power is more important than actual power
Information is vital for authorities to have a clear understanding
of the situation.
Time is perhaps the most crucial element in determining the outcome
hostage situation. The more time passes, the more likely it is that
will be resolved without loss of life. There are several reasons
for this. Time can
reduce stress and anxiety, and increases rationality of the hostage
also increases the need for basics such as food and drink. Although
hostages think about it, few attempt to escape. The passage of
increases opportunities for hostages to escape.
The passage of time also allows for rapport to develop between the
negotiator and the hostage taker, and sometimes the hostage takers’
expectations are reduced.
There are negative effects to the passing of time, however.
the part of authorities is a factor, as is a loss of objectivity.
Boredom also sets in
and can hinder negotiation tactics.
When handling a call from a hostage taker, there are several
to keep in mind. The caller may very well be in an emotional or
One way to calm the caller is to speak in a voice that is softer
and slower than
the suspects. Do not let your emotions rise to the same level as
Relate to the hostage taker on his level. Adapt your conversation
educational and vocabulary level. Listen for clues as to the
state, truthfulness, rationality and willingness to negotiate.
Listen also for a
change in these things, as well as a change in demands. Again,
One technique to use in taking calls from hostage takers is to ask
questions. In doing so, the hostage taker cannot answer with a
"yes" or "no". By having to elaborate on his responses, the hostage
taker may be
able to release some of the anger and frustration he is
experiencing. It is also a
way to obtain more information from the hostage taker. Once
such as location, has been obtained and personnel have been
allowing the suspect to “vent” is encouraged. Downplay what the
done so far. Show understanding through your words and tone of
supportive when the suspect is expressing rational thoughts.
Repeat or paraphrase what the hostage taker tells you. When he is
expressing emotions, it is important to label and respond to the
understand that you are angry, could you tell me more about it?"
hostage taker to talk through statements such as, "Oh, I see."… "Is
that so?"… "I
would like to hear your side"… and "Could you tell me about it?"
There are several things that a telecommunicator must find out in
effectively help responding personnel with a hostage situation.
Some of the
questions may vary, depending upon whether one is speaking to the
taker himself or someone calling to report a hostage situation.
As is typical in caller interrogation, it is important to find out
activity is taking place. Then find out what has occurred and who
Who is the suspect? What are his goals? How many hostages are
are their physical descriptions? What is their physical condition?
Are there any
Find out when the incident occurred. How long have the hostages
held? What are the hostage taker's demands? What weapons does he
There are many things that a telecommunicator can do to help
personnel even once a negotiator is on the scene. The
telecommunicator can get
a description of the building in terms of layout, escape routes and
telephones are located within the building. The telecommunicator
identify the safest approach and escape routes as well as
observation points for
Background information can also be discovered about the suspect in
terms of character, intelligence, emotional state, medications or
problems he may
have been facing. All of these can be an asset to those engaged in
with the suspect.
Since the telecommunicator may play the role of negotiator until
arrives, it is important to be aware of the characteristics of good
It is important for a negotiator to have interpersonal sensitivity.
the ability to sense how another person is feeling, even if that
person is engaged
in something criminal like the holding of hostages. It also means
being tolerant of
people whose lifestyle or life choices may be different from the
Cognitive complexity is also a characteristic of a good negotiator.
The ability to
process several tasks simultaneously is required of the job.
A tolerance of ambiguity is also essential. Nearly everything in a
situation is uncertain and unclear. The negotiator may have mixed
toward the hostage taker. While sympathizing with the problems that
the suspect in that position, that does not necessarily correspond
of the hostage taker's actions. In addition, the hostage taker is
ambiguous feelings and the negotiator needs to understand and
A positive self-concept is a crucial characteristic of a good
strong self-concept will allow the negotiator to listen to the
hostage taker's anger
and abuse without reacting to it on a personal level.
It is important for a negotiator to have low authoritarianism.
shown that people in positions of authority generally do not make
negotiators. This may be because the person in a position of
authority is trying to
serve both the department and the suspect at the same time. It is
difficult to have
two masters. A much better solution is a negotiator who can
concentrate all of his
or her efforts on the suspect.
Previous interviewing experience is a helpful characteristic. This
because interviewers are trained to listen, a skill crucial to
Past experience in stressful situations is an asset in hostage
This will ensure that the negotiator has the emotional stability to
might occur during a hostage situation.
Verbal skills are a must. While listening is crucial, the
negotiator must be
able to persuade the hostage taker that the negotiator's point of
view is the
rational and correct one. The negotiator must be able to use
logical arguments to
persuade the hostage taker, and must be able to counteract the
The negotiator must be able to remain flexible under pressure. The
situation can change very quickly in a hostage situation and the
be willing to flow with the changes.
The negotiator must believe in the power of verbal persuasion and
believe that resolving the situation through negotiation is the
best alternative. If
the negotiator is thinking, "Gosh, it would be better if we just
blew this guy away"
there is unlikely to be a successful resolution to the conflict.
Bargaining skills, the ability to compromise, are important.
can and cannot be negotiated, and convincing the suspect to take
less than what
he desires takes ability and effort.
The more skills of a successful negotiator that a telecommunicator
incorporate into his/her conversation with a hostage taker, the
more likely the
situation can be resolved successfully without loss of life.
As mentioned previously, time is one of the most crucial elements
hostage negotiation. The more time that passes, the more likely
situation will be resolved without loss of life.
One method of stalling for time is to discuss everything in detail.
detailed descriptions. Ask questions that elaborate on information
has given you. It is helpful to keep the perpetrator in a constant
status. If the hostage taker wants sandwiches, find out what kind
What type of bread would he like? Obviously, this should not be
done to the
point of annoyance. The idea is that statements can be elaborated
upon to gain
time for responding personnel to organize and consider their
Open-ended questions can accomplish the same objectives as
things in detail. Statements such as "Tell me about when you first
started to feel
this way" or "What events led up to this?" may encourage the
hostage taker to
vent and again provide additional time.
The importance of listening has already been discussed. It is
emphasize the importance of not interrupting the hostage taker. Not
this lead to aggravating the suspect, but once he has been cut off,
he may no
longer elaborate on his thoughts. Allow the suspect to ramble on,
the usual interjections of "Uh-huh,” "I see, " and the like.
Restatement of content, or paraphrasing, is another stalling
tactic. Tell the
suspect that you want to make sure you understand him, and then
content. Pause to ask questions such as, "Am I correct so far?"
This allows the
hostage taker to confirm and perhaps elaborate further on what has
Both of which buy additional time.
Having the hostage taker reflect upon his feelings can be another
tactic. Statements such as, "I understand you are angry, has there
time when you felt this way? How did you handle it?" or "Why do you
upset you so much?" Requiring the suspect to reflect on his
emotions also has the added bonus of perhaps calming down the
Information provided by:
Schatel, APCO Institute Services