What is Hostage Negotiation?

Harriette Halepis

Hostage negotiation refers to the attempted agreements that law enforcement officials make with a kidnapper or hijacker. In every case, a hostage negotiation is a tricky task, since it involves an innocent person, weapons, and often armed intervention. Specially trained hostage negotiators are usually responsible for bringing a hostage to safety.

The primary goal of any hostage negotiation is to gain the freedom of those taken captive.
The primary goal of any hostage negotiation is to gain the freedom of those taken captive.

Every hostage situation differs, but most of the time the main goals of a hijacker or kidnapper remain the same. The goal of holding an innocent person captive is to obtain something -- this could be money, objects, or other items. Essentially, a hostage is a type of bargaining tool that is used to gain whatever it is that a hijacker wishes to acquire.

While every hostage situation differs, most of the time the main goal of a kidnapper remains the same.
While every hostage situation differs, most of the time the main goal of a kidnapper remains the same.

There are four stages that a hostage negotiator will go through during a hostage negotiation. The first stage is known as the initial stage, and includes the actual capturing of a hostage. The second stage is the negotiation stage, which can last for days or hours. Frequently, this stage does not end until a captor has has a positive response to demands made.

The termination stage is the third stage of a hostage negotiation, and this stage can end in many different ways. If a hostage negotiator is able to pacify a captor, then a hostage may be let go without harm. Sometimes, law enforcement officials must kill or arrest a captor if he is not willing to negotiate. Rarely, a captor may have all of his demands met, yet he still manages to escape.

Lastly, the post-negotiation stage occurs. This is a long-term stage, which may involve the changing of government, business, or other entity involved in a hostage situation. All law officials involved in a hostage negotiation have important duties while negotiations are taking place. The two most important people during any hostage situation are the commander and the negotiator.

Commanders have complete and total control over any hostage situation. This command includes control of all law enforcement staff, and any other officials that might be at the scene of a hostage negotiation. The negotiator is the person who actually communicates with a captor. The commander and the negotiator cannot be the same person, since this would be detrimental were one or the other injured during negotiations.

Both the commander and the negotiator must work together in order to resolve a hostage situation. The main goal of any hostage negotiation is to free hostages without harm, though this does not always happen. More often than not, hostages are injured by a captor or by police bullets that go astray.

Hostage negotiators typically receive extensive firearms training.
Hostage negotiators typically receive extensive firearms training.

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Discussion Comments


I thought this was interesting - There was a particular incident in February of 2000 in Austin, Indiana regarding a hostage negotiation gone wrong. A man and his wife had been arguing and he, supposedly, tried to shoot his wife in a public place. This led to a multiple-car accident. The man exited the car with a gun and police officers instructed him to drop the weapon. The man ended up running into a convenience store and taking the clerk hostage.

I don’t know every single detail but the man ended up killing the clerk and killing himself. The wife of the clerk filed a lawsuit against the city of Austin, claiming that the officers were not properly trained in hostage negotiations and that her husband’s death could possibly have been prevented.

The verdict was that the clerk was an unfortunate victim but did not sustain any constitutional injury.


@dill1971- If you are interested in becoming a hostage negotiator, it is good to work with a department that already has a negotiator on staff. That way, you can tag along and gain experience. My daughter’s boyfriend is a law enforcement officer. He went through the FBI hostage negotiation training. He said that he gained valuable knowledge in the course but nothing takes the place of experience.

I was surprised to learn that some people even take a couple of acting and speech classes when pursuing a career in hostage negotiations.

While it is not mandatory in all areas, being a law enforcement officer will add to your skills in hostage negotiations.


@dill1971- Many people were under the impression that members of a police force’s tactical team were automatically trained in hostage negotiation. Whereas that is true for some police departments, it is usually not the case. Each police department will usually have a handful of officers who are considered highly trained for hostage negotiations.

Not everyone can or should be a hostage negotiator. It takes a specific type of personality to be able to negotiate with someone in a life or death situation. One should be calm, informed in the human psyche, charismatic, and have knowledge of the laws.

Hostage negotiation training is available in many areas. There are also private companies that offer the training to law-enforcement agencies, such as Public Agency Training Council, or PATC.


Does anyone know how to become a hostage negotiator?

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