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How To Negotiate With Hostage Takers

Dec 6, 2022
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16
minutes

Negotiating with hostage-takers has gone from a "gut feeling" to a well-developed science.

In this episode, we look at how this change took place and examine the 9 rules of how to negotiate with hostage-takers.

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[00:00:05] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part two, the follow up, of our episode on the Florida & Munich hostage crises.

[00:00:29] If you haven’t listened to that one yet, I’d recommend you go back and listen to it, because today we are going to be talking about the lessons learned from them, how they are now applied in practice, and look at the 9 principles used in hostage negotiations.

[00:00:46] OK then, let’s get right into it.

[00:00:49] In 1961, 11 years before the Munich disaster, John F Kennedy said “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

[00:01:03] It seemed that this message wasn’t applied to the world of hostage negotiations

[00:01:09] During the hostage crises in Florida and Munich, the security services barely negotiated at all, and when they did they simply didn’t understand what the hostage takers wanted.

[00:01:23] And the results were, as you heard, fatal.

[00:01:27] As Zvi Zamir, the director of the Israeli intelligence services, would later say about the German airfield rescue operation, “There was no rescue plan, no preparations, nothing whatsoever”. 

[00:01:43] Fortunately, Munich and Florida shocked law enforcement into taking hostage incidents more seriously. 

[00:01:51] But as there was no real guidance on what to do in a hostage negotiation situation, the procedures for this had to be built up from scratch

[00:02:02] The first agency to take action was the New York Police Department, the NYPD. 

[00:02:08] In fact, all contemporary principles and practices in hostage negotiation can be traced back to its work in the early seventies. 

[00:02:18] So, what did it do?

[00:02:20] In late 1972 it commissioned two NYPD officers to set up a new hostage negotiation training programme. One of them was a man called Frank Bolz and the other was Harvey Schlossberg, who had a doctorate in clinical psychology. 

[00:02:39] The men developed three overarching principles for approaching a hostage crisis: contain the scene, isolate the perpetrators, and establish dialogue. 

[00:02:50] In other words, firstly, make sure that nobody can get in or out of wherever the hostages are being held.

[00:02:57] Secondly, that the hostage takers cannot escape.

[00:03:01] And thirdly, start talking to them, establish lines of communication between the hostage takers and the security services.

[00:03:11] Very quickly, an opportunity arose to put these principles into action.

[00:03:17] On January the 19th of 1973, a small gun shop in New York called John & Al’s Sporting Goods became the scene of a hostage crisis. 

[00:03:28] Four men had tried to steal guns from the shop, then when the police were called they had taken nine people hostage inside the shop.

[00:03:38] The NYPD established communication with the hostage-takers, conceding small demands for food and cigarettes in return for the release of hostages

[00:03:50] Although the hostage takers sometimes fired, and one policeman was unfortunately killed, the NYPD never returned a single shot. 

[00:04:01] 47 hours after the siege in the store began, all nine hostages were released, unharmed, and the four hostage-takers were arrested.

[00:04:12] Things seemed to be moving in the right direction, and the situation could have been a lot worse.

[00:04:19] There was however one critical flaw in the store hostage crisis response.

[00:04:25] There were simply too many negotiators, making the communication chaotic

[00:04:32] Planners decided that from then on, only a select few, highly trained individuals would be chosen.

[00:04:40] To build up a pool of elite negotiators, the NYPD immediately set up the first training session based on the work of Frank Bolz and Harvey Schlossberg. 

[00:04:52] The first NYPD hostage negotiation training session began in April of 1973. 

[00:04:59] The course went into great detail about how to interact with hostage takers, with people in a hostage or kidnapping situation. 

[00:05:08] Students learned how to buy time and how to bargain in ways that would encourage cooperation from perpetrators

[00:05:17] Bud Teten, an FBI agent with a background in behavioural science, was one of those who attended these early training sessions. 

[00:05:25] Impressed by what he learned, he set up a similar course for FBI agents and police officers to deal with national-level hostage incidents.

[00:05:36] The FBI Academy’s two-week negotiation course focused on abnormal psychology, case studies, and role playing exercises. 

[00:05:45] Communication techniques were the focus, it wasn’t about how to attack in a hostage situation or how to use weapons to kill hostage takers safely, the objective was to talk them out of the situation. 

[00:06:01] For the course, Teten drew up a list of 9 principles for communicating with hostage takers which still inform hostage dialogues today. 

[00:06:12] First, Teten said that the negotiating team must measure the emotional stability of the hostage taker. 

[00:06:20] In Florida and Munich, there was no attempt to deeply understand the psychological state of the perpetrators, and, if you remember, Giffe, the main hostage taker in Florida, was mentally ill.

[00:06:35] Now, the emphasis was on learning as much as possible about the mind of the criminal. 

[00:06:41] The first thing that a negotiator must do is to understand the subjects’ motivation, goals, and emotional state. 

[00:06:50] Only then could they plan how to convince them not to kill innocent hostages.

[00:06:57] Second, a negotiator must assess how dedicated a hostage taker is to getting their demands met. 

[00:07:04] This was another key failure of the German response to the Munich hostage crisis. The police offered money to the terrorists because they had completely misunderstood the terrorists’ devotion to their stated goals. They offered them today’s equivalent of over $60 million dollars, but if they had understood their motivations properly, they would have known that probably no number would have been enough. They were dedicated to getting the prisoners out of prison, their motives were not financial.

[00:07:36] The third principle forbade, it disallowed, law enforcement from ever giving into one type of demand: the request from a hostage taker for weapons. In no situation would the police give the hostage taker weapons, absolutely never, for reasons that I imagine will be clear.

[00:07:55] The fourth principle was to stall for time, to buy more time, which is one of the most difficult but most important of the nine principles

[00:08:05] This is because the first 15, even the first 45 minutes of a hostage crisis are the most dangerous. 

[00:08:12] It's when nobody outside the hostage room really knows what’s going on inside. 

[00:08:19] Neither does anyone know the motivations of the hostage taker, nor the likelihood that they will kill. 

[00:08:26] It's paramount that law enforcement push past this highly fraught first stage by getting the hostage taker to talk as much as possible, for as long as possible. 

[00:08:38] This does two things, first, it buys time, meaning the hostages survive longer and allows a chance for the hostage taker to realise there may be non-violent approaches to obtaining their goals. 

[00:08:53] Second, more dialogue enables law enforcement to gather as much information as possible about the situation and lets them plan the best next moves. 

[00:09:05] The fifth principle was that law enforcement should never offer suggestions to the hostage taker. 

[00:09:12] The hostage taker must articulate their demands independently. 

[00:09:17] By offering things to them, the authorities may give away needless concessions and tip the power balance in favour of the hostage taker. It’s all about waiting to see what is requested, and only then deciding to accept or reject it, never offering something to the hostage taker.

[00:09:38] The sixth principle was that law enforcement should only give a hostage taker something if they think they will get something tactically valuable from them in return. Every concession to the hostage taker must be tactical and it should bring the situation a step closer to a peaceful resolution

[00:09:59] The seventh principle is to keep the perpetrator making decisions constantly, weighing up the risks and benefits of the options being presented to them. This buys time but it also exhausts the hostage taker psychologically, putting them in a position where they may consider surrender. Decisions are tiring, especially when life and death might be involved, so the idea behind this is to tire the hostage taker out and get them to think that surrendering might not be so bad after all.

[00:10:35] The eighth principle is to always make it clear to the hostage taker that there is the potential for ending the hostage crisis, that surrendering does not necessarily mean failure. The negotiator must always make clear that there are alternative routes out for them to end the siege, there is always a way out.

[00:10:58] The ninth and final principle is to select the negotiator with care. This is an important point because although there were many advances in formalising procedures around negotiations, the personal intuition and skill of the negotiator has remained an important part of the job. The person matters hugely.

[00:11:21] The ideal negotiator has to find the perfect balance between emotional detachment from the situation they are in and a capacity to build emotional rapport with the hostage taker by finding common ground and by displaying empathy.

[00:11:38] Clearly, it is a very difficult job, and although these guidelines and processes can be followed, it is an incredibly skillful role requiring a combination of experience, a deep understanding of human psychology, and the ability to adapt to the situation as it unfolds

[00:11:58] And the hardest hostage negotiations tend to be, as you might imagine, with situations involving terror groups.

[00:12:07] Not only are the motives typically political, and their demands almost never actually met, but terror groups are likely to be familiar with the psychological principles and tactics used by the police and by the hostage negotiators

[00:12:24] They will be trained to see and interpret what the police are trying to do, and they have their own set of techniques to counter those of the hostage negotiators.

[00:12:36] And of course, terrorists tend to be more willing to die for their cause, which makes them particularly tricky to negotiate with.

[00:12:45] So, to recap, these 9 principles were: measure the emotional stability of the hostage taker, assess how dedicated they are to their demands, don’t give them weapons, buy time, don’t offer suggestions, only give them something if they ask for it, always force them to make decisions, remind them that there’s a way out, and choose the person actually doing the negotiating with great care.

[00:13:13] Now, you are probably familiar with hostage negotiation scenarios from films and TV. The police surround a building, there are people pointing their guns towards their targets, helicopters swirl overhead, a man shouts into a microphone, “COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP”.

[00:13:31] And perhaps you’re wondering where these nine principles of hostage negotiation come into this.

[00:13:38] In reality, they don’t, most modern hostage situations bear little resemblance to how they are portrayed in the movies.

[00:13:47] Over hours, days, and sometimes even weeks, the negotiator and their back-up team - from intelligence gatherers to the senior coordinator of the mission - will act more like psychologists than police officers, trying to untangle what is actually motivating the people to threaten violence. 

[00:14:07] And the good news is it works. 

[00:14:10] The vast majority of hostage negotiations are, thankfully, resolved without a shot being fired by the police. 

[00:14:19] By some counts, modern negotiation strategies have a 95 percent success rate, meaning that the situation is resolved without anyone dying.

[00:14:30] As we saw in Florida and in Munich, hostage negotiations used to be very different, and this “life and death” situation would normally end in death for everyone involved.

[00:14:42] Luckily, it’s not like this anymore.

[00:14:45] And while there are still tens of thousands of hostage and kidnapping situations every year, too many, of course, with some big, some small, the good news is that never before in human history have we been better at resolving them, so that everyone involved has the best possible chance of getting out alive.

[00:15:08] OK then, that is it for today's episode on How To Negotiate With Hostage Takers.

[00:15:14] I guess and hope that you will never have to negotiate with a hostage taker, or be in a hostage situation yourself, but I hope it was interesting in any case, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:15:25] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:15:29] Does your country have much of a problem with kidnapping, and hostage crises? 

[00:15:34] Interestingly enough I discovered that Belgium has one of the highest kidnapping rates in the world, which was certainly surprising.

[00:15:42] Can you think of ways in which you can apply these hostage negotiating techniques to other areas of your life?

[00:15:48] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:15:52] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:16:01] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:16:05] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:05] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part two, the follow up, of our episode on the Florida & Munich hostage crises.

[00:00:29] If you haven’t listened to that one yet, I’d recommend you go back and listen to it, because today we are going to be talking about the lessons learned from them, how they are now applied in practice, and look at the 9 principles used in hostage negotiations.

[00:00:46] OK then, let’s get right into it.

[00:00:49] In 1961, 11 years before the Munich disaster, John F Kennedy said “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

[00:01:03] It seemed that this message wasn’t applied to the world of hostage negotiations

[00:01:09] During the hostage crises in Florida and Munich, the security services barely negotiated at all, and when they did they simply didn’t understand what the hostage takers wanted.

[00:01:23] And the results were, as you heard, fatal.

[00:01:27] As Zvi Zamir, the director of the Israeli intelligence services, would later say about the German airfield rescue operation, “There was no rescue plan, no preparations, nothing whatsoever”. 

[00:01:43] Fortunately, Munich and Florida shocked law enforcement into taking hostage incidents more seriously. 

[00:01:51] But as there was no real guidance on what to do in a hostage negotiation situation, the procedures for this had to be built up from scratch

[00:02:02] The first agency to take action was the New York Police Department, the NYPD. 

[00:02:08] In fact, all contemporary principles and practices in hostage negotiation can be traced back to its work in the early seventies. 

[00:02:18] So, what did it do?

[00:02:20] In late 1972 it commissioned two NYPD officers to set up a new hostage negotiation training programme. One of them was a man called Frank Bolz and the other was Harvey Schlossberg, who had a doctorate in clinical psychology. 

[00:02:39] The men developed three overarching principles for approaching a hostage crisis: contain the scene, isolate the perpetrators, and establish dialogue. 

[00:02:50] In other words, firstly, make sure that nobody can get in or out of wherever the hostages are being held.

[00:02:57] Secondly, that the hostage takers cannot escape.

[00:03:01] And thirdly, start talking to them, establish lines of communication between the hostage takers and the security services.

[00:03:11] Very quickly, an opportunity arose to put these principles into action.

[00:03:17] On January the 19th of 1973, a small gun shop in New York called John & Al’s Sporting Goods became the scene of a hostage crisis. 

[00:03:28] Four men had tried to steal guns from the shop, then when the police were called they had taken nine people hostage inside the shop.

[00:03:38] The NYPD established communication with the hostage-takers, conceding small demands for food and cigarettes in return for the release of hostages

[00:03:50] Although the hostage takers sometimes fired, and one policeman was unfortunately killed, the NYPD never returned a single shot. 

[00:04:01] 47 hours after the siege in the store began, all nine hostages were released, unharmed, and the four hostage-takers were arrested.

[00:04:12] Things seemed to be moving in the right direction, and the situation could have been a lot worse.

[00:04:19] There was however one critical flaw in the store hostage crisis response.

[00:04:25] There were simply too many negotiators, making the communication chaotic

[00:04:32] Planners decided that from then on, only a select few, highly trained individuals would be chosen.

[00:04:40] To build up a pool of elite negotiators, the NYPD immediately set up the first training session based on the work of Frank Bolz and Harvey Schlossberg. 

[00:04:52] The first NYPD hostage negotiation training session began in April of 1973. 

[00:04:59] The course went into great detail about how to interact with hostage takers, with people in a hostage or kidnapping situation. 

[00:05:08] Students learned how to buy time and how to bargain in ways that would encourage cooperation from perpetrators

[00:05:17] Bud Teten, an FBI agent with a background in behavioural science, was one of those who attended these early training sessions. 

[00:05:25] Impressed by what he learned, he set up a similar course for FBI agents and police officers to deal with national-level hostage incidents.

[00:05:36] The FBI Academy’s two-week negotiation course focused on abnormal psychology, case studies, and role playing exercises. 

[00:05:45] Communication techniques were the focus, it wasn’t about how to attack in a hostage situation or how to use weapons to kill hostage takers safely, the objective was to talk them out of the situation. 

[00:06:01] For the course, Teten drew up a list of 9 principles for communicating with hostage takers which still inform hostage dialogues today. 

[00:06:12] First, Teten said that the negotiating team must measure the emotional stability of the hostage taker. 

[00:06:20] In Florida and Munich, there was no attempt to deeply understand the psychological state of the perpetrators, and, if you remember, Giffe, the main hostage taker in Florida, was mentally ill.

[00:06:35] Now, the emphasis was on learning as much as possible about the mind of the criminal. 

[00:06:41] The first thing that a negotiator must do is to understand the subjects’ motivation, goals, and emotional state. 

[00:06:50] Only then could they plan how to convince them not to kill innocent hostages.

[00:06:57] Second, a negotiator must assess how dedicated a hostage taker is to getting their demands met. 

[00:07:04] This was another key failure of the German response to the Munich hostage crisis. The police offered money to the terrorists because they had completely misunderstood the terrorists’ devotion to their stated goals. They offered them today’s equivalent of over $60 million dollars, but if they had understood their motivations properly, they would have known that probably no number would have been enough. They were dedicated to getting the prisoners out of prison, their motives were not financial.

[00:07:36] The third principle forbade, it disallowed, law enforcement from ever giving into one type of demand: the request from a hostage taker for weapons. In no situation would the police give the hostage taker weapons, absolutely never, for reasons that I imagine will be clear.

[00:07:55] The fourth principle was to stall for time, to buy more time, which is one of the most difficult but most important of the nine principles

[00:08:05] This is because the first 15, even the first 45 minutes of a hostage crisis are the most dangerous. 

[00:08:12] It's when nobody outside the hostage room really knows what’s going on inside. 

[00:08:19] Neither does anyone know the motivations of the hostage taker, nor the likelihood that they will kill. 

[00:08:26] It's paramount that law enforcement push past this highly fraught first stage by getting the hostage taker to talk as much as possible, for as long as possible. 

[00:08:38] This does two things, first, it buys time, meaning the hostages survive longer and allows a chance for the hostage taker to realise there may be non-violent approaches to obtaining their goals. 

[00:08:53] Second, more dialogue enables law enforcement to gather as much information as possible about the situation and lets them plan the best next moves. 

[00:09:05] The fifth principle was that law enforcement should never offer suggestions to the hostage taker. 

[00:09:12] The hostage taker must articulate their demands independently. 

[00:09:17] By offering things to them, the authorities may give away needless concessions and tip the power balance in favour of the hostage taker. It’s all about waiting to see what is requested, and only then deciding to accept or reject it, never offering something to the hostage taker.

[00:09:38] The sixth principle was that law enforcement should only give a hostage taker something if they think they will get something tactically valuable from them in return. Every concession to the hostage taker must be tactical and it should bring the situation a step closer to a peaceful resolution

[00:09:59] The seventh principle is to keep the perpetrator making decisions constantly, weighing up the risks and benefits of the options being presented to them. This buys time but it also exhausts the hostage taker psychologically, putting them in a position where they may consider surrender. Decisions are tiring, especially when life and death might be involved, so the idea behind this is to tire the hostage taker out and get them to think that surrendering might not be so bad after all.

[00:10:35] The eighth principle is to always make it clear to the hostage taker that there is the potential for ending the hostage crisis, that surrendering does not necessarily mean failure. The negotiator must always make clear that there are alternative routes out for them to end the siege, there is always a way out.

[00:10:58] The ninth and final principle is to select the negotiator with care. This is an important point because although there were many advances in formalising procedures around negotiations, the personal intuition and skill of the negotiator has remained an important part of the job. The person matters hugely.

[00:11:21] The ideal negotiator has to find the perfect balance between emotional detachment from the situation they are in and a capacity to build emotional rapport with the hostage taker by finding common ground and by displaying empathy.

[00:11:38] Clearly, it is a very difficult job, and although these guidelines and processes can be followed, it is an incredibly skillful role requiring a combination of experience, a deep understanding of human psychology, and the ability to adapt to the situation as it unfolds

[00:11:58] And the hardest hostage negotiations tend to be, as you might imagine, with situations involving terror groups.

[00:12:07] Not only are the motives typically political, and their demands almost never actually met, but terror groups are likely to be familiar with the psychological principles and tactics used by the police and by the hostage negotiators

[00:12:24] They will be trained to see and interpret what the police are trying to do, and they have their own set of techniques to counter those of the hostage negotiators.

[00:12:36] And of course, terrorists tend to be more willing to die for their cause, which makes them particularly tricky to negotiate with.

[00:12:45] So, to recap, these 9 principles were: measure the emotional stability of the hostage taker, assess how dedicated they are to their demands, don’t give them weapons, buy time, don’t offer suggestions, only give them something if they ask for it, always force them to make decisions, remind them that there’s a way out, and choose the person actually doing the negotiating with great care.

[00:13:13] Now, you are probably familiar with hostage negotiation scenarios from films and TV. The police surround a building, there are people pointing their guns towards their targets, helicopters swirl overhead, a man shouts into a microphone, “COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP”.

[00:13:31] And perhaps you’re wondering where these nine principles of hostage negotiation come into this.

[00:13:38] In reality, they don’t, most modern hostage situations bear little resemblance to how they are portrayed in the movies.

[00:13:47] Over hours, days, and sometimes even weeks, the negotiator and their back-up team - from intelligence gatherers to the senior coordinator of the mission - will act more like psychologists than police officers, trying to untangle what is actually motivating the people to threaten violence. 

[00:14:07] And the good news is it works. 

[00:14:10] The vast majority of hostage negotiations are, thankfully, resolved without a shot being fired by the police. 

[00:14:19] By some counts, modern negotiation strategies have a 95 percent success rate, meaning that the situation is resolved without anyone dying.

[00:14:30] As we saw in Florida and in Munich, hostage negotiations used to be very different, and this “life and death” situation would normally end in death for everyone involved.

[00:14:42] Luckily, it’s not like this anymore.

[00:14:45] And while there are still tens of thousands of hostage and kidnapping situations every year, too many, of course, with some big, some small, the good news is that never before in human history have we been better at resolving them, so that everyone involved has the best possible chance of getting out alive.

[00:15:08] OK then, that is it for today's episode on How To Negotiate With Hostage Takers.

[00:15:14] I guess and hope that you will never have to negotiate with a hostage taker, or be in a hostage situation yourself, but I hope it was interesting in any case, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:15:25] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:15:29] Does your country have much of a problem with kidnapping, and hostage crises? 

[00:15:34] Interestingly enough I discovered that Belgium has one of the highest kidnapping rates in the world, which was certainly surprising.

[00:15:42] Can you think of ways in which you can apply these hostage negotiating techniques to other areas of your life?

[00:15:48] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:15:52] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:16:01] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:16:05] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:05] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part two, the follow up, of our episode on the Florida & Munich hostage crises.

[00:00:29] If you haven’t listened to that one yet, I’d recommend you go back and listen to it, because today we are going to be talking about the lessons learned from them, how they are now applied in practice, and look at the 9 principles used in hostage negotiations.

[00:00:46] OK then, let’s get right into it.

[00:00:49] In 1961, 11 years before the Munich disaster, John F Kennedy said “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

[00:01:03] It seemed that this message wasn’t applied to the world of hostage negotiations

[00:01:09] During the hostage crises in Florida and Munich, the security services barely negotiated at all, and when they did they simply didn’t understand what the hostage takers wanted.

[00:01:23] And the results were, as you heard, fatal.

[00:01:27] As Zvi Zamir, the director of the Israeli intelligence services, would later say about the German airfield rescue operation, “There was no rescue plan, no preparations, nothing whatsoever”. 

[00:01:43] Fortunately, Munich and Florida shocked law enforcement into taking hostage incidents more seriously. 

[00:01:51] But as there was no real guidance on what to do in a hostage negotiation situation, the procedures for this had to be built up from scratch

[00:02:02] The first agency to take action was the New York Police Department, the NYPD. 

[00:02:08] In fact, all contemporary principles and practices in hostage negotiation can be traced back to its work in the early seventies. 

[00:02:18] So, what did it do?

[00:02:20] In late 1972 it commissioned two NYPD officers to set up a new hostage negotiation training programme. One of them was a man called Frank Bolz and the other was Harvey Schlossberg, who had a doctorate in clinical psychology. 

[00:02:39] The men developed three overarching principles for approaching a hostage crisis: contain the scene, isolate the perpetrators, and establish dialogue. 

[00:02:50] In other words, firstly, make sure that nobody can get in or out of wherever the hostages are being held.

[00:02:57] Secondly, that the hostage takers cannot escape.

[00:03:01] And thirdly, start talking to them, establish lines of communication between the hostage takers and the security services.

[00:03:11] Very quickly, an opportunity arose to put these principles into action.

[00:03:17] On January the 19th of 1973, a small gun shop in New York called John & Al’s Sporting Goods became the scene of a hostage crisis. 

[00:03:28] Four men had tried to steal guns from the shop, then when the police were called they had taken nine people hostage inside the shop.

[00:03:38] The NYPD established communication with the hostage-takers, conceding small demands for food and cigarettes in return for the release of hostages

[00:03:50] Although the hostage takers sometimes fired, and one policeman was unfortunately killed, the NYPD never returned a single shot. 

[00:04:01] 47 hours after the siege in the store began, all nine hostages were released, unharmed, and the four hostage-takers were arrested.

[00:04:12] Things seemed to be moving in the right direction, and the situation could have been a lot worse.

[00:04:19] There was however one critical flaw in the store hostage crisis response.

[00:04:25] There were simply too many negotiators, making the communication chaotic

[00:04:32] Planners decided that from then on, only a select few, highly trained individuals would be chosen.

[00:04:40] To build up a pool of elite negotiators, the NYPD immediately set up the first training session based on the work of Frank Bolz and Harvey Schlossberg. 

[00:04:52] The first NYPD hostage negotiation training session began in April of 1973. 

[00:04:59] The course went into great detail about how to interact with hostage takers, with people in a hostage or kidnapping situation. 

[00:05:08] Students learned how to buy time and how to bargain in ways that would encourage cooperation from perpetrators

[00:05:17] Bud Teten, an FBI agent with a background in behavioural science, was one of those who attended these early training sessions. 

[00:05:25] Impressed by what he learned, he set up a similar course for FBI agents and police officers to deal with national-level hostage incidents.

[00:05:36] The FBI Academy’s two-week negotiation course focused on abnormal psychology, case studies, and role playing exercises. 

[00:05:45] Communication techniques were the focus, it wasn’t about how to attack in a hostage situation or how to use weapons to kill hostage takers safely, the objective was to talk them out of the situation. 

[00:06:01] For the course, Teten drew up a list of 9 principles for communicating with hostage takers which still inform hostage dialogues today. 

[00:06:12] First, Teten said that the negotiating team must measure the emotional stability of the hostage taker. 

[00:06:20] In Florida and Munich, there was no attempt to deeply understand the psychological state of the perpetrators, and, if you remember, Giffe, the main hostage taker in Florida, was mentally ill.

[00:06:35] Now, the emphasis was on learning as much as possible about the mind of the criminal. 

[00:06:41] The first thing that a negotiator must do is to understand the subjects’ motivation, goals, and emotional state. 

[00:06:50] Only then could they plan how to convince them not to kill innocent hostages.

[00:06:57] Second, a negotiator must assess how dedicated a hostage taker is to getting their demands met. 

[00:07:04] This was another key failure of the German response to the Munich hostage crisis. The police offered money to the terrorists because they had completely misunderstood the terrorists’ devotion to their stated goals. They offered them today’s equivalent of over $60 million dollars, but if they had understood their motivations properly, they would have known that probably no number would have been enough. They were dedicated to getting the prisoners out of prison, their motives were not financial.

[00:07:36] The third principle forbade, it disallowed, law enforcement from ever giving into one type of demand: the request from a hostage taker for weapons. In no situation would the police give the hostage taker weapons, absolutely never, for reasons that I imagine will be clear.

[00:07:55] The fourth principle was to stall for time, to buy more time, which is one of the most difficult but most important of the nine principles

[00:08:05] This is because the first 15, even the first 45 minutes of a hostage crisis are the most dangerous. 

[00:08:12] It's when nobody outside the hostage room really knows what’s going on inside. 

[00:08:19] Neither does anyone know the motivations of the hostage taker, nor the likelihood that they will kill. 

[00:08:26] It's paramount that law enforcement push past this highly fraught first stage by getting the hostage taker to talk as much as possible, for as long as possible. 

[00:08:38] This does two things, first, it buys time, meaning the hostages survive longer and allows a chance for the hostage taker to realise there may be non-violent approaches to obtaining their goals. 

[00:08:53] Second, more dialogue enables law enforcement to gather as much information as possible about the situation and lets them plan the best next moves. 

[00:09:05] The fifth principle was that law enforcement should never offer suggestions to the hostage taker. 

[00:09:12] The hostage taker must articulate their demands independently. 

[00:09:17] By offering things to them, the authorities may give away needless concessions and tip the power balance in favour of the hostage taker. It’s all about waiting to see what is requested, and only then deciding to accept or reject it, never offering something to the hostage taker.

[00:09:38] The sixth principle was that law enforcement should only give a hostage taker something if they think they will get something tactically valuable from them in return. Every concession to the hostage taker must be tactical and it should bring the situation a step closer to a peaceful resolution

[00:09:59] The seventh principle is to keep the perpetrator making decisions constantly, weighing up the risks and benefits of the options being presented to them. This buys time but it also exhausts the hostage taker psychologically, putting them in a position where they may consider surrender. Decisions are tiring, especially when life and death might be involved, so the idea behind this is to tire the hostage taker out and get them to think that surrendering might not be so bad after all.

[00:10:35] The eighth principle is to always make it clear to the hostage taker that there is the potential for ending the hostage crisis, that surrendering does not necessarily mean failure. The negotiator must always make clear that there are alternative routes out for them to end the siege, there is always a way out.

[00:10:58] The ninth and final principle is to select the negotiator with care. This is an important point because although there were many advances in formalising procedures around negotiations, the personal intuition and skill of the negotiator has remained an important part of the job. The person matters hugely.

[00:11:21] The ideal negotiator has to find the perfect balance between emotional detachment from the situation they are in and a capacity to build emotional rapport with the hostage taker by finding common ground and by displaying empathy.

[00:11:38] Clearly, it is a very difficult job, and although these guidelines and processes can be followed, it is an incredibly skillful role requiring a combination of experience, a deep understanding of human psychology, and the ability to adapt to the situation as it unfolds

[00:11:58] And the hardest hostage negotiations tend to be, as you might imagine, with situations involving terror groups.

[00:12:07] Not only are the motives typically political, and their demands almost never actually met, but terror groups are likely to be familiar with the psychological principles and tactics used by the police and by the hostage negotiators

[00:12:24] They will be trained to see and interpret what the police are trying to do, and they have their own set of techniques to counter those of the hostage negotiators.

[00:12:36] And of course, terrorists tend to be more willing to die for their cause, which makes them particularly tricky to negotiate with.

[00:12:45] So, to recap, these 9 principles were: measure the emotional stability of the hostage taker, assess how dedicated they are to their demands, don’t give them weapons, buy time, don’t offer suggestions, only give them something if they ask for it, always force them to make decisions, remind them that there’s a way out, and choose the person actually doing the negotiating with great care.

[00:13:13] Now, you are probably familiar with hostage negotiation scenarios from films and TV. The police surround a building, there are people pointing their guns towards their targets, helicopters swirl overhead, a man shouts into a microphone, “COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP”.

[00:13:31] And perhaps you’re wondering where these nine principles of hostage negotiation come into this.

[00:13:38] In reality, they don’t, most modern hostage situations bear little resemblance to how they are portrayed in the movies.

[00:13:47] Over hours, days, and sometimes even weeks, the negotiator and their back-up team - from intelligence gatherers to the senior coordinator of the mission - will act more like psychologists than police officers, trying to untangle what is actually motivating the people to threaten violence. 

[00:14:07] And the good news is it works. 

[00:14:10] The vast majority of hostage negotiations are, thankfully, resolved without a shot being fired by the police. 

[00:14:19] By some counts, modern negotiation strategies have a 95 percent success rate, meaning that the situation is resolved without anyone dying.

[00:14:30] As we saw in Florida and in Munich, hostage negotiations used to be very different, and this “life and death” situation would normally end in death for everyone involved.

[00:14:42] Luckily, it’s not like this anymore.

[00:14:45] And while there are still tens of thousands of hostage and kidnapping situations every year, too many, of course, with some big, some small, the good news is that never before in human history have we been better at resolving them, so that everyone involved has the best possible chance of getting out alive.

[00:15:08] OK then, that is it for today's episode on How To Negotiate With Hostage Takers.

[00:15:14] I guess and hope that you will never have to negotiate with a hostage taker, or be in a hostage situation yourself, but I hope it was interesting in any case, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:15:25] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:15:29] Does your country have much of a problem with kidnapping, and hostage crises? 

[00:15:34] Interestingly enough I discovered that Belgium has one of the highest kidnapping rates in the world, which was certainly surprising.

[00:15:42] Can you think of ways in which you can apply these hostage negotiating techniques to other areas of your life?

[00:15:48] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:15:52] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:16:01] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:16:05] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]