IN THIS CORNER: FIRST RESPONDERS
By Lynne Kinnucan
What do you do when you’re the first officer to arrive at the scene of a crisis? The first few minutes after an officer’s arrival at the scene can have a critical impact on how the situation evolves.
While there is no step-by-step process that fits every situation, there are three objectives that should be primary during your first moments: stay safe, calm the subject and assess the situation. Below are five guidelines suggested by experts for first responders.
1. Stay safe. Approach the scene cautiously.
2. As much as possible, isolate the scene and contain it. Clear the area of members of the public, including family members. Do not ask family members to talk to the subject. This is precarious at best, and can be dangerous.
3. Make an assessment of the area and note any details that might be helpful to the arriving negotiation/tactical team such as the time, date, the parties at the scene, nature of the call, and any other pertinent information.
4. Do not start negotiating. Listen for indications of the subject’s emotional state, but do not try to problem-solve or explore motives. It is not your job to fix the situation. You are there to contain, isolate, gather information and assess.
5. If you can engage the subject in conversation, he is less likely to pay attention to violent acts.
a. Use active listening to gain information and calm the subject.
b. Keep the dialogue simple and direct. Identify yourself and why you are here. “This is Sergeant Greenstein and I’m here to help.”
c. Do not say “no”.
d. Do not make promises.
e. Pay attention to not just what is being said but how: pace of speech, increasing loudness or softening of tone, phrases and words that indicate resistance or openness to discussion, etc. Use active listening skills such as encouragers (mm hmmm, I see, sounds you’re pretty upset, etc.)
Statistics show that on average, more than 90% of all hostage and barricade situations are successfully resolved through communications. The best tool you have is active listening and open communication, and the information you garner in these first few minutes can provide invaluable over the course of the crisis negotiation.
Not every agency has the resources to train a first responder, but ongoing training in active listening skills is one of your best preparations for this critically important role.
Department of Justice