Monday, November 10, 2014

A History of Hostage Negotiation Presentation to The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators London Branch

 A History of Hostage Negotiation
Presentation to The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators London Branch

By Commander Dave Johnston of  The Metropolitan Police Service - Specialist Crime Directorate


Ladies, gentlemen and honoured guests of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators that is the standard opening for any police negotiator.  Thank you for the kind invitation to come here this evening and talk to you about a subject, which has been near, and dear, to my heart for many years.

I thought I ought to begin with a short overview of the history of negotiations before talking of the role we play in today’s environment.

Hostage negotiators have long been used in some form or other and indeed, it is an ancient art or skill, which stretches back to at least the Greek era.   Polybius, the son of an eminent Greek governor  was one of the 1000 nobles who in 168 BC were transported to Rome as hostages and detained there for 17 years. I can only think in horror, of the logistics of maintaining such a negotiation. Particularly today, given health and safety legislation and our growing concern over budgets! 
Suffice to say, that Polybius was released and went on to help in the sacking of Carthage and killing of many of his Roman captors. So no Stockholm syndrome for Poybius then.

The modern history of hostage negotiation - or arbitration depending on your stance - starts really in the early 1970s when officers from Scotland Yard and the American FBI met to debrief a number of crime in action situations that were to alter the way we did business in the future.   One of these crimes was a bank robbery in Stockholm where one of the captors fell for the hostage taker and sought to protect him. This phenomena became known as the “Stockholm syndrome” and featured again in 1974 in the notorious USA bank robbery where Patti Hearst, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist who had been kidnapped by terrorists, became affiliated to the group and helped them carry out a daring robbery for which she was imprisoned.  She was of course later pardoned on the grounds that she showed her involvement was caused by Stockholm syndrome.  There have been many examples of this in latter years including, the hostage taking here in London that many of you will remember at the Iranian embassy some years ago.

Returning then to - crime in action- it is exactly  what you would imagine – a crime which is still ongoing. The difference with these crimes and those which have completed such as a homicide or a robbery, is that whilst the latter relies on forensic and detective ability to identify the perpatrator after the event has concluded, the former is still in action and the decisions of the investigaor must remain robust and fuid enough to morph with the will of the perpetrator who holds the decision making mantle. The art of negotiation in such circumstances is to wrest the control gently and unknowingly from the perpetrator into the hands of the investigator or police.

So let me move then to talk a little of the art of hostage negotiation – and I call it an art for it is my view that like all things involving the complex interaction of human beings with other worldly influences and people, then artistic licence and ability must have an influence in the outcome. Perhaps we can talk of this a little more during our discourse this evening.

How do we parallel with arbitrators what then are the similarities and where lie the differences…

Aristotle was probably the first person to recognise that rhetoric as an art of communication was morally neutral, that it could be used for good or evil. Its success he suggests, depends on three things
1.     Ethos: The speakers success in conveying to the audience that he can be trusted
2.     Pathos: The emotions that the speaker awakes in the audience to accept the views advanced and to act in accordance with them.
3.     Logos: The truth and logical validity of what is being argued becoming self evident
This model I suggest sits as comfortably with you as it does with me regardless of the audience and it is in this model that our work is perhaps most similar.

Having researched your organisation and spoken to some of your number (what we in policing terms refer to as using a snout or informant!)  I can see many parallels in what you do as arbitrators or mediators and what we do in policing terms. That is, with one major exception, you are usually looking to progress negotiations and to seek a resolution quickly for time is money.   Although, perhaps, some of your clients may not agree that this is what lawyers actually do!   Indeed, knowing Nicky Padfield, I was struck with the thought that there was another major difference between working with lawyers and terrorists - and it was simply this - “You can negotiate with terrorists”.

We in policing are, of course, also looking for a resolution but often seek to prolong the negotiations to allow other tactical options to be considered and used.  In this respect we have a golden rule that overarches our normal hierarchical rank structure it is simply this, “Commanders command and negotiators negotiate”.  On this basis, we are clear from the outset, that a negotiator has no control over tactics and options, he or she are involved in buying time for others to consider alternative options. Sometimes, this can create difficulty for those whose day role is based on making decisions all the time. The tactics of course may vary depending on the situation we find ourselvs dealing with.

Our negotiations fall into two broad categories and each  brings with it its own set of difficulties.

Firstly - covert negotiation:  Odd yes but a fact – in most kidnappings, we will seek to remain secret in the negotiation and sit alongside the victim to advise them on how to negotiate.
Note here, the use of the language, the victim is the person of whom the demand is being made – the bank manager whose wife and family may be held hostage – what we refer to in our lexicon as a tiger kidnap.

In this type of scenario, we will try to ensure that the presence of the police remains unknown as to do anything else may endanger the hostage.  But maintaining this position brings with it, considerable difficulty even in simple things like entering premises covering ransom drops or making other enquiries to trace the hostage takers – at any point, an inside agent or a third eye could spot the police and lead to danger to the hostages.

Interestingly, we never use the phrase hostage to hostage takers as it may psychologically raise an awareness in them that they have a position of power or frighten them into realising what they have got into!  In these cases we refer to people by their names “…Please let Mary go” – again, this personalisation of subjects makes it more difficult for a hostage taker to harm the subject – as they begin to see them as people and not as hostages.  We have a very strict protocol of objectives in these types of offences and they are -
1.              Safe recovery of the hostages (article 2 HRA)
2.              Safety of the staff involved
3.              Recovery of evidence to prosecute
4.              Recovery of ransom

This sometimes bemuses people but I can assure you that we do not deviate from this protocol and it can be a very lonely place in the wee small hours when you have to let a ransom run and you have no idea where the hostages are or hostage takers are - particularly if you have signed for the ransom!!!!

The second type of negotiations are overt or those where the Police are known to be involved from the outset.   These fall into three sub categories
·       Barricades (with or without a hostage)
·       Suicide intervention                                      
·       Hostage taking

Hostage takers also fall into three broad categories - Terrorists, criminals and the mentally disturbed
Euphamistically we refer to these as Mad – Bad and – Sad,  I’ll leave you to work out which is which.

The negotiating team

Usually, the negotiations team consists of three personnel. The primary negotiator or number 1-  actually communicates with the subject. The secondary or number 2 -  assists the primary negotiator by offering advice, monitoring the situation, keeping notes and ensuring a dispassionate perspective is kept. This will include warning of approaching deadlines, positive police actions, the use of intermediaries and so on.  As a note, how many of you would consider or allow an intermediary to assist – say a wife of the person barricaded ?

Welcome to the world of assisting a suicide by audience!!
-intermediaries are good but they may also be the catalyst the person has been waiting for to commit suicide in front of – danger signs are where the threat to commit suicide is when a reltionship has broken up and one party wants to rekindle the flames of love.

The third person on the team yes you’ve got it the number 3 is the intelligence negotiator who interviews people associated with the suspect to draw up a criminal and mental history profile. They will also act as the link to the operational tactical team.  Often, it is only the number three who will know what is going on regarding tactics as experience has shown that when the principal or number one is made aware of an imminent storm of a stronghold – this can leak out in the voice or actions of the negotiator.

In the course of negotiation, each of these negotiatiors may rotate role particularly if the number 1 feels he\she is not achieving the Aristotle principals. This is part of the training and there is no shame in admitting that you cannot build rapport – it is not about you it is about the hostage or suicidal person.  Each year in London we will deal with around 180 calls for negotiators to be deployed – over 60 % of these calls will be to barricade situations where mentally ill or desperate people will have barricaded themselves into a building threatening to kill themselves and or family. These are very volatile situations and require excellent listening skills to establish what sort of person you are dealing with – get it wrong and you could exacerbate the situation – fortunately, we have only had one death from this type of scenario over the past 5 years – Eli Hall in Hackney who set fire to the building he was in.  As my grandmother used to tell me:  “ son you were given two ears and one mouth for a reason – learn to use them in the correct proportions”.

The second most frequent are those sad individuals who end up on a building edge threatening suicide and again, extreme care is needed with rapid intelligence gathering to understand what we are dealing with.   In this category particularly, the negotiator has to be very careful about how they deal with the individual because many will be repeat offenders and if they have been lied too or duped in the past, they will not trust the negotiator (remember Aristotle and the Ethos)

The third area in overt negotiation is the criminal siege –Professional criminals may take a hostage accidentally or as a fight or flight panic reaction – and then use the hostage as a barter for escape.
There are three choices for the hostage taker. The first is to choose martyrdom, kill the hostage and commit suicide. The second is to negotiate terms with the police for an escape route. The third is to surrender to the police.

There are a number of choices for the police:
·       to overpower the hostage taker with firepower or to use a sniper.
·       to use chemical agents to flush them out
·       or to contain the area and bring in a trained negotiator.
In all cases of this nature in the UK, a hostage negotiator will be the first choice every time. Remember the priority is the safety of the hostages lives or even -  the life of the barricaded individual.

This type of scenario also contains another hidden danger that we refer to as  Death by Cop
This scenario is when a deranged person seeks to goad or push the police into killing him by use of force towards them or a hostage and it is a very difficult situation for those on the other end of a rifle.
The last category we deal with is the most difficult and the one over which we have least control – this is the hostage taking for a cause the political kidnap.  This type of incident is on the increase due to the conflicts we are seeing across the world and the involvement of the UK in those conflicts.
The perception is that our policy makes UK citizens targets of extremists such as Al Qaeda, Fatah and Hezbollah.   I see this area of work increasing and  as you can imagine,  it is very dangerous and difficult to deal with. Often, the demands will be of a political nature or outside of the ability of the UK alone to meet – such as demands for the release of prisoners from a foreign jurisdiction or for vast sums of money, weapons or withdrawal of troops.   The UK position on negotiation with terrorists is that there will be no substantial concessions.  This clearly places some considerable difficulty on the negotiator with little to offer but to buy time for the lives of the hostages to allow political or tactical resolution.  We know that many of these cases will be very protracted and the skills and resilience of negotiators is taxed to the limit on dealing with such issues often over many thousands of miles and involving political intricacies and cultural or faith issues of which we have little understanding. 

I have to say, it makes a great environment for quick learning!!   Then of course, there is the human issue when despite best efforts, those who have control - simply snuff out a life such as the case of Margaret Hassan or Ken Bigley – what then of the impact on the negotiator. 

I will talk a little in a moment on the skills of the negotiator and who they are but to summarise the facts and fiction of negotiation:  fewer than 20 percent of law enforcement critical incidents deal with actual hostage taking, and most crises are successfully resolved without loss of life. In fact, containment and negotiation strategies yield a 95 percent success rate in terms of resolving a hostage crisis without fatalities to either hostages or hostage-takers (HTs), which is a remarkable statistic for any form of lifesaving crisis intervention strategy. I wonder how arbitrators measure success? 

There are three especially dangerous periods during a hostage crisis. The first is the initial 15-45 minutes when confusion and panic are likely to be greatest.   The second is during the surrender of the hostage takers, when strong emotions, ambivalence, and lack of coordination among hostage takers and crisis team members can cause an otherwise successful resolution to go bad.
Finally, tactical assault to rescue the hostages carries the highest casualty rate, probably for two interrelated reasons. First, the very fact that tactical intervention if necessary indicates that all reasonable attempts to resolve the crisis by negotiation have failed, and that violence against the hostages has already taken place, or is imminent. Second, if a fire fight ensues, the resulting panic and confusion may result in hostages being inadvertently killed or injured.
As I outlined at the start, these decisions are not those of the negotiator but if they fail, it makes the ongoing negotiation a tad difficult – so our message to commanders is -  get it right if you intervene!

So what are we looking for in the negotiator?
Unremarkable people really!
We have a big sign at the training facility that reads
Please leave your ego here – you wont need it!
People who can accept that it is not about right and wrong it is not about winning
It is about communication
That said, we are looking to test and identify
Resilience, patience, even temper, passion, empathy, professional knowledge and self-assurance.
These skills are not just about doing the job – they are about surviving after the job and being able to get up and go again – even if it went wrong last time.
 We train officers of inspector rank and above – some suggest that this is because we don’t have to pay them overtime – I couldn’t possibly comment!
The truth is, we do this to ensure that they will be reasonably mature, understand the organisation and have some clout to get things done.
The training is a very intensive three weeks of very long days and nights, which are closely, monitored by psychologists and senior negotiators. It is a pass-fail course and a one time try out.
Every negotiator will have a full time day job and volunteers to take this work on for no extra remuneration and at great personal potential cost to them and their families, they may be posted to Afghanistan or some other trouble spot at a moments notice they may be in a barricade with a mental patient tonight and a local authority partnership meeting tomorrow.
They wont talk about their experiences outside, success is based on saving a life and in the case of kidnaps, hopefully making sure our involvement stayed off the headlines. Negotiators are the unsung heroes of many operations and that’s the way we like it.

I will conclude now by saying, that you can sleep safely in the knowledge that somewhere tonight in the UK, a negotiator will be sitting somewhere probably cold and tired but doing a job of work which is for them, very rewarding and saves lives.

Thank you for listening and I am more than happy to take any questions on this subject, fly fishing or rugby.