Police Psychology Term Paper

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Police Psychology


You are a police psychologist for a major metropolitan area. You are also a member of its hostage negotiation team. You have been called to a crisis incident at 3:15 P.M. On a Friday. It is in a residential area about three blocks from a middle school and a public library. The information you have at this time is that the subject is a 42-year-old male who is holed up in his house with his wife, son, and a family friend. He has murdered his next-door neighbor and is threatening to kill those in the house if his demands are not met. One of his demands is for immunity from the murder charge if he surrenders without harming any of the people in the house. His other demands are a case of beer and some fast food. He wants his demands met or "something will happen."u


The crisis negotiation team will face a number of challenges in this situation that are well beyond what could be found in day-to-day policing. This situation in particular is extremely fragile because the subject has already killed and undoubtedly is in an unstable psychological and emotional state. Furthermore, this situation is unfolding in proximity a school and a library which also heightens the potential for innocent causalities if the situation is not controlled. This analysis will consider the scenario from multiple perspectives. First the situation will be analyzed in terms of the probabilities that are present in the crisis team's intervention. Next, different strategies that could represent an ideal response will be presented for guidance in the team's response. Furthermore, different tactics that could be useful in this situation will also be provided.

Background on Hostage-Takers

Two reasons are cited for the continuing popularity of hostage taking: (1) the contagious factor in our international society which spurs imitative acts and (2) the tactical effectiveness of taking hostages as long as human life is valued (Cooper, 1981). When a suspect does not have a hostage then the response team only has to consider the loss of the suspect's life, their own safety, and the safety of the community around the event. However, when a hostage is taken, this elevates the immediate potential for the loss of life and allows the hostage-taker a significant amount of leverage to negotiate.

Furthermore, since popular media has fixated on these events, virtually everyone knows that a hostage can improve an individual's bargaining power and buy time to develop a strategy to escape or have other demands met. Therefore, when criminal acts go bad, the criminal, unfortunately, intuitively already knows that a hostage can be a valuable asset in negotiating position. In this situation, not only is the loss of life greater, but there are also many psychological implications for the victims. Although the resilience of individuals should never be underestimated, there is evidence that being taken hostage can have enduring effects, particularly on children. Individuals vary in how they cope with such an experience, both during and subsequent to it (Alaxander & Klein, 2010). Therefore, not only must the crisis team consider physical harm to the innocent victims, but there is also an element of psychological harm that results from a hostage situation even if all of the hostages survive.

Despite the virtually universal knowledge of the value of a hostage, the motivations of the hostage taker can substantially different from one situation to the next. The motivations of the hostage-takers can be classified by three broad categories (Goldaber, 1979). The first is a psychologically inflicted individual who is irrationally and can be extremely difficult to deal with. The next category is the criminal suspect who takes a hostage when the crime that they were committing takes a turn for the worse and they use the hostage for negotiating leverage in the preservation of their own freedom. The final category is the politically motivated individual who uses the hostage to attempt to further some political ambition; this category is usually associated with terrorism, either domestic or international.

The suicidal category can be one of the most complicated to negotiate with since the subject will most likely be irrational and have complex and disorganized demands. This category can be further broken down into three sub-categories. One is the suicidal personality that is caught in a crisis life-style and sees no other escape, (2) the vengeance seeker who is extremely deranged and stalks real or imaginary adversaries, and (3) the disturbed individual is usually acting out a transitory outrage or frustration although he may be seriously disturbed and must be dealt with carefully (Goldaber, 1979). Despite these subcategories being well developed, there is also some potential for overlap between them.

In the scenario, it is unclear exactly which type of psychological hostage-taker that this suspect would fall into; though it is clear that he is psychologically motivated by the actions he has already taken as well as his initial demands. He could have initially been seeking vengeance from the neighbor but is now caught between other motivations. He could also be suicidal in the midst of his instability. He has already proven that he is violent through the homicide involving the neighbor and could easily commit such an act again.

The suspect is clearly deranged and dangerous, be more information is needed to determine exactly which category of psychologically inflicted hostage-taker he would be represent. There also could be a chance that the hostage taker could be in the criminal category. That is, he was caught in the act of a murder and is now trying to bargain for his freedom. However, I think there is enough facts presented that point to a psychological infliction that the criminally motivated model could be ruled out. However, this could be conclusively ruled out with a few simple questions early in the negotiation process.

Time Frame Analysis

There have been many studies conducted to try to identify patterns in communication behavior over time and their outcomes. One study consisted of a sample of 189 interaction episodes was transcribed from 9 resolved negotiations and coded according to differences in the degree and type of behavior; partial order scalogram analysis (POSAC) was used to produce a graphical representation of the similarities and differences among episodes while simultaneously uncovering the role of each behavior in shaping the negotiation process (Taylor, 2002). In this study, as negotiations developed over time, behavior alternated between periods of increasing cooperation and periods of increasing competition, with unsuccessful negotiations associated with a concluding trend of increasing competitive behavior. This suggests that not only is time a critical component, but also the communication behavior that is exhibited between the negotiating parties.

There are other factors that can also influence the importance of the time frame. Another study investigated the cognitive capacities of the negotiation's parties to determine if more closely matched cognitive abilities would led to better outcomes. The goal of the experiments was to better understand the dynamics that lead certain types of groupings to have greater success in negotiations, and that lead certain groups of adversaries to achieve more mutually beneficial outcomes such as compromise and agreement and the findings point to a positive relationship between the level of homogeneity in cognitive complexity among decision makers and the achievement of positive outcomes in crisis negotiations (Santmire, et al., 2002). This also makes sense intuitively. If a suspect was an intellectual genius, they probably would not be satisfied negotiating with a crisis intervention team member that was not able to match their intellectual abilities and as a result would become less cooperative. Thus it would be reasonable to suggest that the led in the crisis negotiation be of sufficient intelligence to appropriately communicate with the hostage-taker.


Although it was identified that time alone cannot predict a crisis situation's outcome, it is important for the crisis intervention team to have enough time to device an appropriate strategy. There are many skills that can be taught to add time to the negotiation process during a crisis incident. One example of this is to ask open ended questions to the subject. Open ended questions can provide many benefits in tense situations. One benefit of this approach is that it lets the crisis team have a better understanding of the subject's mindset. Another benefit is that it allows for more time to pass so that the team can further develop their strategy. In many cases a subject will use the opportunity to talk about his motivations which can provide insights as well as buy time.

Another tactic that can be used is to focus on the extremes of a situation. What is the best thing that can happen if you do not change?" "What is the worst that can happen, if you don't change?" "What is the best that can happen, if you do change?" Or "What is the worst thing that can happen if you don't change? (McMains & Mullins, 2010)." This tactic again has multiple benefits. Getting the subject…[continue]

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