U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Hostage Negotiations

NCJ Number
Law Enforcement Technology Volume: 26 Issue: 1 Dated: January 1999 Pages: 64-66-70
K W Strandberg
Date Published
5 pages
The job of hostage negotiators has changed over time as negotiators deal not only with standard hostage situations but also with barricaded criminals, terrorists, and suicidal individuals; the goal continues to be to ensure that everyone emerges alive.
Methods may vary slightly from one police agency to another. Negotiators work slowly and methodically to get to know the hostage taker, because time is usually on their side. This is the case because most hostage takers see themselves as victim and believe that they were forced to take hostages. Negotiators will talk about anything and believe that saying no is never a good idea in hostage negotiations. They cannot negotiate for exchanging hostages, but they can negotiate for money and transportation. The chance that something bad will happen is greatest between 15 and 45 minutes into the situation. The four approaches to hostage situations are to: (1) contain, isolate, and negotiate with a hostage taker; (2) contain and demand a surrender; (3) use chemical agents to force a surrender; and (4) use tactical teams. Most experts agree that tactical force is the last option, provided that none of the hostages has been wounded. Pressure to move up the force continuum often increases as a hostage situation continues. Working together with the tactical teams can mean greater effectiveness. Hostage negotiators normally work in teams. Many police agencies are also starting to use outside consultants, psychiatrists, and psychologists to help in the hostage negotiation process.