What is Crisis Negotiation?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2019
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Crisis negotiation is a law enforcement specialty which focuses on safely defusing dangerous and life threatening situations. The goal of most crisis negotiation teams is to successfully address a situation with no injury to anyone involved. Large national law enforcement agencies often have crisis negotiation specialists, as do regional police agencies, and urban police forces. When a crisis situation comes up in a rural area which does not have its own team, a team can travel from another region to provide assistance.

Members of crisis negotiation teams often start out training as law enforcement officers. After several years on the job, they can apply for crisis negotiation training, and will be sent to a special academy to learn how to negotiate in crisis situations. Training includes discussions of a wide variety of topics, ranging from the psychology of such situations to the protocol used by teams which enter crisis situations if negotiators feel that the situation cannot be safely defused.

People who work in this field often work on teams, establishing close connections with team members. They may respond immediately when a situation is reported, or they may be called in to a situation when law enforcement officers realize that crisis negotiation is needed. Once they arrive, the crisis negotiators usually take control of the scene, working in an isolated area to reduce stress and making sure that they decide which actions should be taken and when so that they can control the situation.


Hostage taking situations are perhaps the most famous types of situations handled by crisis negotiation teams. However, such teams also handle people threatening suicide and individuals who have barricaded themselves, with or without other people. Crisis negotiators work with everyone from terrorists holding occupants of an aircraft hostage to upset teens who want to commit suicide.

Working through emergency situations requires a unique approach to each situation, and the ability to evaluate situations quickly. Crisis negotiators know how to respond rapidly to emerging threats and changes on the scene, and they have a variety of tactics which they can use to negotiate with people. Each academy trains its crisis negotiators slightly differently, depending on the policy of the agency running the academy.

Crisis negotiators must be able to negotiate in good faith. They do not make promises which they cannot fulfill, and they are careful to remain attentive to the needs of the people they work with. This is one reason why they prefer to be isolated from bystanders, family members, and other law enforcement officers so that they can focus on the situation at hand.


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