Federal, Local Officers Learn Hostage, Crisis Negotiation Techniques in Rosemount

Updated: 08/25/2014 11:03 PM
Created: 08/25/2014 4:31 PM
By: Stephen Tellier

You pick up the phone, and on the other end is an armed man barricaded inside a home, holding hostages. What do you say?

That's the question federal agents and local police officers are answering this week.

"Hey Pete, this is Abel from the police department. How's it going?" an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives asks another agent, who is playing the role of a heavily armed man holding his girlfriend hostage.

"I don't know what you guys are doing out front of my house. You got guns. You got a tank out there. Go away from my house," the other agent replies.

They're acting out an actual, dangerous scenario ATF agents have previously encountered, as part of crisis negotiator training in Rosemount. Eleven ATF agents and four officers with the Minneapolis Police Department are taking part in the training, and 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS took an inside look at the training on Monday.

The training is conducted as part of ATF's Special Response Team, which handles high-risk operations across the country. This particular training is targeted at negotiating tactics -- talking to barricaded suspects and suspects holding hostages, as well as individuals who are suicidal and threatening to harm themselves.

During the training, one agent is on the phone, while another listens in and provides support via handwritten notes.

"It's an art that you have to practice," said Christian Hoffman, the ATF Special Agent who leads to Special Response Team Crisis Negotiator Program.

The overall goal is to calm, empathize and listen.

"The emotions of that person are so elevated that they can't rationally make decisions on their own," Hoffman said.

"Taking a situation that has kind of spiraled out of control, and bringing it back to an even plane -- a more rational level," said MPD Sgt. Joshua Young, describing the goal of negotiations.

It's different than typical police work. But Young said it shares the same mission.

"This is where you get to help people, and when I do my job, when I negotiate successfully, people don't get hurt, officers don't get hurt, the community members don't get hurt," Young said.

That's because every successful surrender is also a second chance.

"To give them that olive branch that they know that life's not over. We're giving them an excuse or a reason to want to come out and live," Hoffman said.

Crisis negotiators are also trained to relate to the person's culture and background. That's part of the reason why MPD's newest Somali officer is taking part in the training.

MPD officers responded to 18 calls in 2013 that resulted in the use of a negotiator.

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