Hostage Situation One of the First Actions Thesis

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Hostage Situation

One of the first actions that a psychologist must perform is to determine what type of hostage-taker the officers are dealing with. There are three general types of hostage-takers and one of them can be dismissed here: The hostage-taker in this situation is not a political activist or terrorist. He most closely fits the definition of a criminal deviant (this typology of hostage takers follows that of McMains & Mullins, 2006). A criminal deviant hostage-taking situation arises when a criminal is caught and decides to use one or more hostages as a way to bargain for his or her freedom. It is not quite clear from the information provided that this is what has occurred but I believe that the facts fit this type of hostage situation. (Although this is slightly different from what might be considered to be the prototypical deviant criminal hostage-taking situation in which -- for example -- a bank robber is surrounded by police just outside the bank doors and holds a hostage in front of him as he walks out.)

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This hostage-taker may also have some elements of mental instability. (Indeed, one could well argue that anyone who acts in this way is necessarily unstable to some degree.) We are not given enough information in this scenario to determine if the hostage-taker has exhibited any signs of mental illness (such as unexplained, explosive anger, seeing or hearing hallucinations, signs of personality disorders, etc.). One especial concern in terms of mental illness would be to know if the hostage-taker had shown any recent signs of suicidality. If he had done so then this would be an issue for considerable concern given that he might be trying to commit "suicide by cop." That is, he might not have the courage to take his own life in an active way and so is acting in a way that, at least subconsciously, he believes will prompt the police to take his life for him (Borum, 1988, p. 20).

Thesis on Hostage Situation One of the First Actions Assignment

As a police psychologist, my optimum role in this situation is to act in a way that allows everyone involved in the situation to emerge from it unhurt. This includes the hostage-taker himself. Although it might be tempting to see the hostage-taker as dispensable, such an attitude will incline the negotiating team to act in ways that overly reckless. Moreover, it is not up to the police psychologist or anyone else on the police force to determine the guilt of anyone involved in the situation but rather to resolve it as peacefully as possible. This is something that will only be possible to do if a psychologist has already been accepted into the police department as a part of the team and is seen as someone with the same goals and values as other people in the department (McMains & Mullins, 2006, p. 71).

One way to have built up such a sense of teamwork will to have conducted exercises (such as mock hostage situations) in which the psychologist makes it clear that she or he is willing to learn about police procedure. Given that many police officers may not entirely trust a psychologist on an a priori basis, the psychologist may have to do a fair amount of work to be accepted as a part of the team.

Although the psychologist will work to protect the safety of everyone involved, it remains the case that there is a hierarchy in terms of who deserves the most protection and this is something that the police psychologist has to keep in mind. The hostages are entirely innocent and deserve the most protection, especially given that some of them are children. Also of highest priority is anyone who might enter the scene accidentally -- such as children coming home from the nearby school (given the time of day). Keeping uninvolved people from becoming involved is not the job of the police psychologist; however, if this should happen the psychologist would have to factor in how to keep them safe.

The psychologist must also bear in mind how to keep the officers on the scene safe. Of course, police officers understand that they will face risks on the job but this does not mean that every possible option must not be taken to keep them safe. In large measure, the steps that the psychologist should take to keep one group of people (e.g. The hostages) safe will also keep other people safe so that there will be no conflicts in terms of choosing one group over another. However, if there are conflicts then the psychologist must look to keeping the hostages safe as her or his primary concern.

In terms of how a psychologist (or anyone who is negotiating with a hostage-taker) should begin to work that person, the most important dynamic is that the psychologist wants to slow things down. This can be seen as being analogous to slowing down while driving a car: The more slowly one is driving, the longer one has to react to the unexpected and the dangerous. The more quickly one is going, the greater chance that there is for something to go terribly wrong all at once.

Slowing down the situation also allows the necessary time for a relationship to be built up between the hostage-taker and the psychologist. This is fundamentally important: Without a relationship and the dialogue on which that relationship is built it will be almost impossible for there to be a peaceful end to the situation. Talking buys time, and it increases the options for both the hostage-taker and the psychologist -- and more options on both sides increases the possibility that things will end well (Hatcher etal, 1998, p. 458).

Entering into a dialogue that allows the standoff to move from an immediate flash-point to a longer-term situation also allows investigators to learn more about the hostage-taker. As noted in the questions for this exercise, often a psychologist as well as other members of the police force will have very little information about the hostage-taker. This does not mean that it is not a good idea to find out as much as possible. This will allow the psychologist to work to make an alliance with the hostage-taker (and the stronger the alliance in general the better the possible outcomes become). Such an alliance will be based on not only the information that the psychologist may choose to share with the hostage-taker but also in terms of what the psychologist may choose to avoid talking about -- such as not bringing up the fact that the hostage-taker has just been fired (Peak etal 2008).

The kind of information that police could benefit from and might be able to obtain in a relatively short period of time might include: The criminal background of the hostage-taker (which could help provide insight into how the person may respond in a highly stressful situation); medical and/or psychological background on the hostage-taker; and information on whom the hostage-taker might be willing to engage in dialogue with (such as a parent or best friend). This kind of information is, obviously, much easier to determine if the identity of the hostage-taker is known at the beginning of the situation. Knowledge about any of these factors could increase the power that the psychologist has in the situation. For example, if the hostage-taker has a medical condition and needs drugs for it, supplying those drugs might become a point of negotiation. Likewise, if there is someone who is particularly close to the hostage-taker, then police can use the time afforded by extended negotiations to find that person and bring him or her to the scene (Hatcher etal, 1998, p. 470).

There are drawbacks to extending the negotiations -- including "tertiary" problems. The longer the waiting period goes on, the more likely it is that people will become nervous. Nervous people tend to have poorer judgement -- and this includes the hostage-taker, the hostages, the police at the scene -- even the psychologist. Every precaution must be taken to ensure that officers do not become trigger-happy. In a similar vein the psychologist should work to ensure that the hostages know that there are people working to rescue them so that they do not become so scared that they act in ways that are likely to endanger themselves (Hatcher etal, 1998, p. 472).

All hostage situations involve demands and the way in which the psychologist or negotiator handles these negotiations may well determine whether the situation ends violently or peacefully. Lipsedge (2004) found a range of possible outcomes for a hostage situation. In domestic violence situations, for example, over 90% of hostage-takers were wounded or killed. The only other situations with such a high rate are prison hostage situations and political/terrorist hostage situations. Hostages themselves are much less likely to be killed -- with first-responders falling in the middle between these two groups in terms of their chance of being killed or badly injured. These odds can be improved by a careful… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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