Program Note: Tune in tonight for more on situation in Binghamton on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/04/03/binghamton.shooting/art.binghampton.scene3.irpt.jpg caption="The shootings and hostage situation took place at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, New York. "]
How does a dangerous hostage standoff come to a peaceful end? One former FBI negotiator says it begins with hope.
“You focus on giving him a reason to live through this,” Byron Sage says of a suspect. “As soon as he starts to connect to that concept, he will realize he is responsible for any kind of actions taken against the hostages. What you are trying to do is…give him hope.”
Providing that hope often starts with a phone call. Sage, who was the Crisis Negotiation Program Manager with the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group, says there are several options to persuade the gunman to answer. When responding to a hostage situation, law enforcement will “capture the lines,” a term used to describe how phone services going in and out of the target location are isolated or limited. By capturing the lines, the suspect can only talk to the police.
If the subject refuses to use a phone, one may be provided for him. Sage says a “throw or rescue phone” will be tossed through a doorway or window, giving the gunman the option of picking it up to talk. If that doesn’t work, the negotiator may turn to a public address system, like a bullhorn. But Sage believes it is not always effective. “Most PA systems are monotone,” he says. “When you are talking to someone, you want to convey thoughts and emotions, on a PA system, it doesn’t come across as very thoughtful. You sound very much like a robot.”
Once communications are established, and Sage has made it happen with notes and flashing lights, the negotiator will size up who he or she is dealing with. It could be a sociopath, an ex-convict, a religious fanatic, or someone that snapped. No matter the circumstances or the individual, Sage has advice for negotiators: “A negotiator never says yes, and he never says no. You’re a messenger with a level of authority, but you are not the absolute decision-maker.” Even if the demands are outrageous – a plane for example – the negotiator will tell the subject he or she is doing the best he to accommodate the hostage-taker.
The biggest factor to saving lives? Time.
The more the hours tick by, the greater the chance the hostages will be released “Try to get some passage of time,” Sage advises. It increases the possibility that the violence or threat of violence will be curtailed, and that rational thought enters the situation.
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