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crisis negotiations

Book Review: “Crisis Negotiations: Managing Critical Incidents and Hostage Situations in Law Enforcement and Corrections”

I have been honored to give keynote addresses at a couple conferences for the Texas Hostage Negotiators and the FBI Crisis Teams and found them to be a very different type of cop.  They are humble but at the same time show a lot of confidence.  They have a way of expressing themselves that lets you know they know what they are talking about.  And unlike many cops, they didn’t exaggerate their stories, because they could keep them interesting without having to.  You see, hostage and crisis negotiation has all the drama and plot twists that make a good story without any embellishments or liberties.  They are always attentive audiences and I hear from them for months later about how they apply what I talked to them about.  And they have tremendous respect for psychologists.  I love them.  And, besides they had the best barbecue parties of anywhere I have gone to speak, once you get past the Lone Star beer.

To understand the reverence Texas negotiators hold for psychologists, one needs to go no further than to look at the psychologists who have trained them for years.  Two of the most important are Drs. Wayman Mullins and Michael McMains and they have authored a book called Crisis Negotiations: Managing Critical Incidents and Hostage Situations in Law Enforcement and Corrections.  This is a book that trains the Hostage/Crisis negotiator from start to finish – a little about the history of negotiations, setting up teams, dealing with a variety of situations, handling tactical vs. operational/negotiation teams, handling the stress of a negotiation during and after an incident, and generally handling every aspect of a police response from start to finish.  Make no mistake, this book is a complete textbook that leaves no stone unturned.  Each chapter starts with learning objectives, then goes to stories, incidents and techniques, gives you references up the wazoo, and finally completes with exercises.  By the time you finish the first chapter you know what the Stockholm syndrome is, you learn of the history of hostage negotiation in war, you learn about prison sieges, and you are introduced to the language used in the book.  Each chapter after that follows suit, goes from general principle to individual technique as if an individual paper to stand alone.  I particularly found the chapters on negotiating with emotionally disturbed individuals, gathering intelligence, and negotiating within prisons vs. the public sectors very poignant as they describe clear cut how-to models to guide your negotiation.  Although I must admit, all the chapters had a quality that defines them as top of the field.

If you are in a position to train a negotiation team or become part of crisis negotiations, this book is the standard.  It is the Grey’s Anatomy of negotiations and a must read for any psychologist in this type of operational function or planning to get into crisis negotiations.  It is also a good standard to read for psychologists, particularly police psychologists, doing therapy with police officers as one never knows when one might be in a position of having to talk to a suicidal officer with a gun.   I would even suggest it to psychologists working with officers that might be on this special assignment as it really gives great insight into the process of a negotiation and what the officer might deal with after a negotiation that has gone down bad.  McMains and Mullins have made this text very complete and thorough and easy enough to understand and follow as a guide.  There really is no better book in the field of crisis and hostage negotiations.

And if you contact them they may even give you their barbecue recipes.  This might just get you in the right mood while you read.

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Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.  ABPP

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Thomas Strenz

Book Review: An evaluation of Thomas Strenz’s hostage negotiation methodology in “Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation”

What hits you first is the organization of the material.  When I read Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation by Thomas Strenz (Taylor and Francis Publishers, Boca Raton, Fla. 2006), I didn’t expect to see what I saw.  I guess I expected another rehashing of hostage negotiation materials, but what I got was the structure of a thought process that really could be very useful to anyone in operational psychology.  In fact, it was organized more like a manual, than a book of descriptions of hostage situations and outcomes.  For that reason, this is a book you may want to look to adding to your library.

Thomas Strenz has taught hostage negotiations at the FBI academy, and work with the FBI gov.  He was introduced to the Society by Wayman Mullins (quite a name himself in this field) and just fascinated the group with his hostage negotiations mini-seminar.  Reading his book is a little like his seminar, except to see the material in a manual format makes it come more alive and gives the reader confidence that they know where to go for answers if ever they find themselves negotiating for the lives of others.  What Strenz did was simple, but sometimes simplicity alludes writers of material in this field.  He organized material to make it useful even at the scene of a hostage situation.  He also places a great value on the mental health professional in a hostage situation, as the mental health professional helps determine what you are dealing with and how to proceed.   Okay, this is not new, but remember this book is not written by a police psychologist, or anyone else in the mental health field; it is written by a negotiator. (more…)

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