414 – Hostage Negotiations Team

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Purpose

This policy identifies the qualifying circumstances where the Hostage Negotiations Team (HNT) shall be deployed, defines the fiscal responsibilities of the HNT, and structures notification and reporting procedures. [CALEA Standard 12.1.2]

Definitions

Barricaded Suspect: Any person who has taken a position of restricting access using a threat of harm to him- or herself while occupying an area he or she is controlling through the means of barriers, fortifications, obstructions, or holding open areas, portrays an approach to the subject as difficult or dangerous, and has refused a peaceful surrender or to release such position.

Critical Incident: Any incident where any person’s abilities have been exceeded and creates a risk to any persons where standard law enforcement responses are better served with specialized unit resources that are able to control or defuse a threat or potential threat to public safety and arrive at a safe resolution.

Equipment: Includes the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), throw phone system and attachments, and other technical or other issued equipment for use by the HNT; equipment shall be recorded under inventory under the direction of the HNT team leader.

Hostage Negotiations Team: Five or more combined members of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) who have been trained and certified to serve in the capacity of Hostage Negotiator; responds as a support element to the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, utilizing specialized techniques and equipment to resolve any barricaded, high risk, or other designated critical incident peacefully.

Hostage Negotiations Team Leader (TL): The designated position of a team member who, under the direction of the Special Operations Command and SWAT supervision, upon being notified and approved for deployment, is charged with immediate control of the HNT members and the team’s immediate response and assignments at a situation.

Mobile Command Post: A multi-purpose vehicle assigned to the HCSO Communications Division specially-equipped with communications equipment such as cellular phones, hard line or secure phone capabilities, satellite phone capabilities, fax machines, computers with internet accessibilities, and other essential needs to assist hostage negotiations operations.

Mobile Negotiations Unit: A vehicle that is designed and equipped for immediate response to a call-out situation and can be used to facilitate temporary or short-term remote negotiations with the subjects or suspects until the equipment needs are exceeded and a Communications Division Mobile Command Post can be assigned and utilized.

Team Leader Duties: The HNT leader is charged with situational changes during any incident and serves as liaison with SWAT for the duration of the call-out. The TL is responsible for logistical assignments during a situation and the creation and submission of any related supplement reports. The TL may designate such duty or duties to any HNT member. The TL is further responsible for completing evaluations, conducting assessments, and fulfilling revisions or changes that shall be documented and maintained on file for team member assignment considerations.

Hostage Negotiation Team Organization

Team Leader: Certified HNT hostage negotiator who plays a leadership role and is assigned to administrative duties for the purpose of providing leadership and direction to the members of the team. The TL gives assignments and, as needed, makes changes based upon the interest of the scene resolution.

Primary Negotiator: Hostage negotiator charged with establishing communications with the actors and applying trained verbal skills toward the safe resolution of the incident.

Secondary Negotiator: Hostage negotiator who serves as a support position to the primary hostage negotiator and works to provide and update intelligence, transmits immediate threats to TL, and is responsible for taking up the primary hostage negotiator role as needed and assigned.

Intelligence Officer: Assigned deputy who initiates and continues the gathering of intelligence efforts on the actors or suspects, family members, associates, or any other person involved; who may contribute essential information that is potentially useful in the peaceful resolution of the situation; and location, site, business, residence, weapons, or other high-risk information and the initial cause or vital information relative to the incident. The intelligence assignment further calls for conducting on-scene interviews, debriefs, and is ultimately responsible for continuously updating information that is detrimental to the situation at hand, making it available to HNT members and the TL for informing SWAT.

Scribe: Position responsible for receiving, filtering, and documenting the information obtained or passed on by the intelligence officer or other credible source related to the situation. The scribe properly disseminates verified intelligence to the secondary negotiator and is responsible for creating, maintaining, and constant updating of informational boards visible to the secondary negotiator or other HNT members for reference during the incident.

Logistics / Communication: Position responsible for ensuring the responding HNT unit is mechanically maintained, fueled, and fully operational. The logistics position is also responsible for the proper maintenance, deployment, and use of equipment during the call-out situation and may be assigned by the TL to serve as liaison between SWAT and HNT as needed in the team leader’s absence.

Procedure – General

The HCSO Hostage Negotiations Team shall be deployed for immediate response under the command and direction of the Field Operations Division (FOD) commander, or as approved by the FOD commander or a SWAT supervisor, to serve as a support element to SWAT in direct response to a situation deemed as a high-risk incident where call-out criteria has been satisfied and the incident has a potential peaceful resolution. The FOD commander may simultaneously activate and deploy HNT and SWAT based on consideration of information provided at the time and consideration for public safety.

The HNT is a subset of SWAT and, for safety reasons, shall not be deployed independent of SWAT without the expressed authorization of the Field Operations Division commander.

At the time of deployment, the HNT leader will, by assignment, cause the mobile negotiations unit to respond to the scene. Upon further assessment, the HNT leader shall determine whether a Mobile Command Post response may better serve the HNT needs for more efficient operation. The team leader will then communicate the request to the SWAT supervisor or commander. If approved, the SWAT supervisor will notify the Communications Division that a Mobile Command Post is needed at the scene. [CALEA Standard 46.2.1 b & c]

Whenever the SWAT commander or supervisor determines that a HNT is needed, the HNT leader will be notified. The HNT leader, having all members’ contact numbers or a preexistent HNT mass text message ability, shall call out and deploy the HNT members based on the situation or scheduled on-call list to accomplish the mission in an effective manner. The HNT members called out and used may be varied to benefit the specific situation and are subject to change based on the team leader’s consideration and continued assessments. A full team call-out may include the team leader, a primary negotiator, a secondary negotiator, a scribe, an intelligence gathering component, and a technical support and logistics member. [CALEA Standard 46.2.1 b &c]

After the event ends, the HNT leader will ensure all equipment is accounted for and properly stored and that a supplement report is generated to the original incident report that contains any pertinent actions that were taken by the HNT. The HNT leader shall also prepare an after-action report that will be forwarded to the SWAT commander, supervisor, and HNT records.

All HNT members shall remain vigilant at all times to protect any scene perimeter and prevent the escape of any involved subject.

HNT members shall not, without command authorization, openly or privately discuss SWAT or HNT operations, measures, functions, organization, training, or assignment information outside of the FOD. Furthermore, HNT members, unless for approved training purposes, shall not discuss an operation to identify situational issues, complaints, or matters that may have any adverse effect upon any member of SWAT or HNT.

Removal of a HNT member can occur upon the team leader’s written recommendation and be based on any violation of a policy, practice, the rules set forth to provide team guidance, the efforts to serve the interest of HNT operations better, or a negative HNT assessment evaluation. Such cause for removal exists if a member is unable to work in harmony with the team, lacks interest or support, or is found to be unreliable for the duties and training set forth for the HNT. Removal in the interest of improving the HNT can only occur with the FOD commander’s approval.

Procedure – Team Selection and Training

Prospective candidates:

  1. Must be continuously employed as a licensed peace officer with the HCSO for at least one year,
  2. Must be willing to work varying duty hours due to call-out status and have acceptable attendance history,
  3. Must have a reputation and character qualities that reflect a team worker attitude, self-motivation, and a proven stable record of integrity, responsibility, good judgment, and the ability to remain calm during intense and high level situations involving severe physiological and psychological stressors,
  4. Must be able to communicate clearly and effectively under intense situations that may last for prolonged periods of time,
  5. Must be in an approved assigned driving position with the HCSO,
  6. Must be able to complete an approved forty-hour Basic Hostage Negotiations certification course successfully within six months of being selected for the HNT, and
  7. Shall make all possible efforts to attend training set forth in two monthly sessions consistently. Absence from training may be considered cause for temporary or complete separation from the HNT call-out roster or HNT all together if the position may be better suited for another member. HNT members serve on a voluntary basis and are subject to separation, suspension, or removal based on the team leader’s recommendation to the SWAT supervisor and commander approval.

Selection Process

  1. The Field Operations Division commander will appoint a selection committee to evaluate the suitability of each prospective candidate subjectively based on the above listed qualifications.
  2. Each of the applicant’s duties shall be considered in order to prevent any conflict of interest in scheduling or otherwise. If selected, consideration may be given into a member’s ability to remain an active or reserve team member. Each applicant should be aware that multiple HCSO roles or specific duty roles adversely affecting the ability to perform with strict HNT practices may subject the HNT member to any form of temporary or permanent separation.
  3. The selection committee shall interview each applicant individually and review all pertinent documentation prior to providing the selection recommendations to the Field Operations Division commander.
  4. The Field Operations Division commander will make the final selections of HNT members.

Training

Training is a key element necessary for the development and continued success of the HNT. Each HNT member will be challenged to meet the requirements set forth for a professional hostage negotiator. Training is based on past and current local, state, and nationwide trends resulting in high-risk situations. Training for hostage, barricade, and other high-risk incidents alongside SWAT may pose physical tasks, such as walking long distances, standing or sitting for long periods of time, and the ability to apply strategized thinking skills.

  1. Continuous training in the field of hostage negotiations will be developed and approved by the HNT leader.
  2. Training topic records will be kept in accordance with HCSO policies and maintained in the FOD.
  3. Training in classrooms or in field exercises may subject the hostage negotiator to longer than normal hours.

Revision

This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:

December 3, 2013

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