Behavioral Sciences & the Law

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Volume 4 Issue 4 (Autumn (Fall) 1986), Pages 351-490

Hostage negotiation: Law enforcement's most effective nonlethal weapon (pages 423-435)


Hostage negotiation is perhaps the most explicitly psychological law enforcement discipline. The hostage negotiator attempts to form a trusting relationship with the hostage‐taker, to foster a sense of mutual interest and concern in the surrounded group, and to act as a credible broker between the hostage‐taker and the authorities. The technique has been applied to hostage situations involving trapped criminals, subjects with mental disorders, prison inmates, and terrorists. Although family members, friends, and helping professionals can provide useful information to help the negotiators, only law enforcement officers who are not in a command role should negotiate directly with the hostage‐taker. Careful selection and training, including multiple role playing exercises, can prepare negotiators for the considerable stresses they must face. These include deadlines, victim precipitated deaths, and the potential involvement of the negotiator in a tactical resolution of the hostage incident. Recently, the principles of hostage negotiation have been applied in a growing range of crisis situations.

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