Weekend read: The role of a police negotiator
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A man stands on the wrong side of a barrier high above a city street. Officers and fellow emergency services colleagues are at the scene. The area has been cordoned off and the public, for their own safety, are prevented from getting near.
Called to the scene are a team of specialist officers. Frontline officers often manage to resolve similar situations but if, for whatever reason, it’s not possible specialist police negotiators are deployed.
The incidents they attend will be different each time but the purpose of deploying a police negotiator is always the same – to save lives.
Also known as hostage crisis negotiators, police negotiators are officers who have undergone specialist training in order to be able to diffuse potentially dangerous situations.
An officer attached to the cadre at Leicestershire Police said: “Because we work with people in critical moments of their lives who don’t want their identity or privacy exposed we won’t put ourselves in the spotlight. We adopt a similar position around who we are and what we do.
The role is a voluntary one with officers committing to duties above and beyond their regular positions and, when required, providing mutual aid both across the region and nationally.
The men and women who make up the cadre of crisis negotiators at Leicestershire Police operate on an on-call basis 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
They are expected to be available for deployment at short notice and often find themselves called out to work during unsociable hours.
The officer continued: “If you put yourself forward for the role you have to be flexible. There is no knowing what time a call can come in and you must be prepared to drop everything and get to work as quickly as possible
“If you’re sitting at home enjoying time with family or you’ve just finished a long shift or it’s the middle of the night and the phone rings calling you to work, you’ve got to go – there’s no excuse.”
The types of incidents they are called to are incredibly diverse. From rooftop stand-offs, criminal barricades lasting hours and hours, people intent on suicide, threatening to jump from heights or barricading themselves inside properties intending to take their own lives.
Because of the nature of the incidents faced by negotiators a particular skill set is paramount.
A negotiator will be expected to have excellent communication and listening skills, be able to read body language and think dynamically.
Negotiator training, held outside of the county, is extremely tough and not everyone will have what it takes to complete the intense, pass or fail course.
Before embarking on the course, a candidate will have been through practical assessments and a role-playing scenario judged by an experienced assessor.
Candidates are also interviewed by senior members of the national Hostage and Crisis Negotiation team. If successful they are invited to attend the training programme.
The negotiator spoke of what the training entails. He said: “The course is intensive, highly competitive and extremely demanding, both physically and mentally.
“A candidate can expect at least 14 hours of work a day consisting of classroom tuition followed by evening sessions dedicated to realistic, scenario-based, role-playing exercises.”
The training programme is designed to build negotiating skills based on research and tested theory, providing the opportunity to apply those skills in highly pressured and stressful situations.
He added: “Candidates are continually monitored and assessed throughout the two weeks of training with some students leaving prematurely, before the end of the fortnight, having failed the course.
“There are no grey areas – either you pass or you fail. And passing the initial course is just the start, following on there is a specialist programme of courses and professional development aimed to build and sustain the developed skills that candidates are also required to pass.
“I have been part of the cadre at Leicestershire Police for many years and I am immensely proud of the role I play, knowing we make a difference to people’s lives.
“Police negotiators face intensely volatile and highly emotive situations where, at times, a person’s life hangs in the balance.
“When the situation is safely resolved after successful negotiation it is incredibly rewarding, we really have saved lives.”