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Hendon Publishing

Inside the CMT-HNT

Team Leader, Primary, Secondary, Tech Support, Scribe

Inside the CMT-HNT
By: Jim Weiss and Mickey Davis

It was the tragic events at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich that shook up West German police officials and opened the eyes of law enforcement personnel around the world to the difficulty they faced in dealing with hostage situations.

The West German police encountered a situation that went way beyond the ordinary, and one they had not prepared for. Members of the Israeli Olympic wrestling team were taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists. The attempt to free them resulted in a gun battle that ended in catastrophe with nine Israeli hostages, five terrorists, and one police officer killed.


This prompted NYPD to develop their now universally accepted Hostage/Crisis Negotiations program. According to Lieutenant (retired) Al Baker (Emergency Service Unit or ESU), New York City Police Department’s Commanding Officer of the Special Operations Division enlisted Lieutenant Frank Bolz and Police Officer Harvey Schlosberg (PhD) to begin work to create a Hostage Negotiation Team (HNT).

This was a new idea, but it would prepare the agency in the event a similar Munich-style crisis occurred in New York City. Later, Bolz and Schlosberg taught hostage negotiations courses. ESU and HNT were separate entities within NYPD.

Soon after, in January 1973, four armed men took over John and Al’s Sporting Goods store in Brooklyn, N.Y., shot two NYPD police officers, and killed a responding NYPD ESU officer. The suspects held 14 hostages inside the store. The newly created Hostage Negotiating Team responded.

The hostage takers participated in negotiations, which took place largely on the street with officers who were located inside a military-surplus armored personnel carrier (actually a full-tracked M-75 tank). There was no such thing as a throw phone. NYPD did, however, take over the store’s phone system with the assistance of the phone company.

It took 47 hours before HNT successfully negotiated their surrender after the 14 hostages made a hasty escape to the roof through a hidden passageway. This success resulted in the fast-tracked development of a NYPD resource unit to support the new mission of “hostage negotiations.”

Throw Phones

Throw phones came later as replacements for home-made, jury-rigged phone systems. In time, commercially manufactured throw phone kits were purpose-built for crisis management.

Telephone communication is the preferred method of contact with a hostage taker or barricaded person. A popularly accepted method of doing this is by using a throw phone, a much safer way for police negotiators to communicate with bad guys than doing it face to face.

“Throw phone” is a generic term dating back to the early-1980s. This was during the days before cell phones were readily available, so telephone contact was limited to existing phones in the barricaded area. Throw phones were also needed for locations such as wooded areas or public restrooms where landlines just didn’t exist. At that time, in some hostage incidents, amenities such as landline telephone service, as well as water and electricity, were turned off or controlled by the police.

In the case of telephones, service was cut off remotely by the telephone company at police request or by officers on the scene. Federal electronic surveillance statutes are collectively referred to as Title III Applications. The state laws vary, and in certain states, a court order/warrant may not be needed.

While one team member worked to obtain a court order for legal concerns, another police officer would climb the pole and isolate the telephone communications to that building. This provided a reason for police to introduce their throw phone.

Considerations included which telephone pole controlled a particular house, and whether it would be a safe operation. This was judged by how far the pole was from the house, and whether SWAT could control the line of fire. If you can see the house, those in the house can see you.

Years later, as telephone companies converted to all-electronic central offices, new phone numbers could be quickly assigned to a barricaded area from a remote location. The new number was known only to law enforcement and prevented others such as the media or family members from getting through.

The next major agency to develop a hostage negotiations team was the FBI. Among the first crisis incidents engaged in by the Bureau was one that took place in 1975 when serial bank robber Fast Eddie Watkins, using a fake bomb, took nine people hostage during the Society National Bank Robbery on Cleveland’s west side. He surrendered after 21 hours.

Two styles of hostage negotiations evolved in the United States. On the East Coast, negotiators, usually investigators, were described as being in control, while on the West Coast, they tended to be uniformed SWAT personnel cross-trained as negotiators.

For example, the Cleveland, Ohio, Police Department, using LAPD as model, assigned the SWAT commander as the incident commander, with hostage negotiation as a sub-specialty. In the aftermath of a crisis negotiation, it is recommended that both the negotiators and SWAT debrief together.

Pasco County, Fla. Sheriff’s CMT

The Unified Crisis Management Team (CMT), like that area’s Unified SWAT team, is made up of members of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and the New Port Richey Police Department. The hostage negotiators operate in partnership as one united team.

Under the CMT concept, team members have various duties.

The Team Commander provides overall command of the CMT. He/she controls the assignment delegation of CMT personnel, coordinates proposed strategies with the SWAT commander, provides recommendations to the Command Staff and the Incident Commander, and ensures the appropriate actions of CMT promote a legally defensible course of action. The Team Leader supervises and directs the actions of the different components of the CMT.

The Primary Negotiator initiates and maintains direct contact with the subject throughout the incident, whether it is a hostage-taker situation or barricaded suspect, typically until resolution. The Secondary Negotiator remains with the Primary Negotiator for the duration of the incident, monitoring dialogue, providing coaching, and supporting the progress of negotiations. He/she is prepared to take over for the Primary Negotiator as needed if that relationship with the suspect is not effective.

The Negotiation Cell Liaison is also a scribe, who maintains the integrity of the incident by passing along information to the Secondary Negotiator as needed and reporting negotiation progress to the Team Leader upon request.

A Technical Support Negotiator provides support services as necessary to promote effective and controlled contact with the subject in crisis. Such support includes maintaining and setting up equipment, including the Rescue Phone console and Throw Phone. He coordinates with the phone carriers to isolate or deactivate phone lines.

This is often a lengthy process that includes working with the carrier, their security department, and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office Communications Section. This Technical Support Negotiator also provides other technical assistance as dictated by the incident.

Two or more Intelligence/Investigative Negotiators obtain critical background information (military background, family, arrests, warrants, etc.) on all subjects involved in a crisis. They debrief released hostages or family members and obtain collateral information from mental health and/or medical providers, as well as obtain physical location intelligence through available resources and copies of subject photographs or related information for dissemination to the command post, SWAT, and CMT members.

They also provide support and supervision of family and friends at the scene who may otherwise compromise the resolution efforts. While other members of the CMT are located at the Command Post or as close to the scene as possible, the locations of Intelligence/Investigative Negotiators vary depending upon the task assignment and intelligence sources.

Controlling Suspect Communications

In establishing control over a suspect’s communications, CMT determines the carrier for a suspect’s landline or cell phone, and establishes contact with that carrier’s law enforcement liaison; each such company has its own protocol and they have to have justification for their actions, too.

With landlines, the suspect’s telephone number can be changed. CMT can be creative in changing this number; under Florida law this is legal as long as there are exigent circumstances.

Using their current CRT, negotiators can conduct a conference call with another person who knows the suspect and could be helpful in resolving the incident. In the command vehicle or wherever the CRT is set up, command staff also monitors the conversations in real time using specially designed amplified speakers. Knowing what the suspect is saying and doing can save lives.

In addition, the primary negotiator’s headset can also be muted if he doesn’t want the suspect to hear what he is saying to others in the command vehicle or the command center. There is an automatic call button that will ring until the controlled phone system or throw phone is picked up.

The agency has been using a Crisis Response Telephone™ (CRT) from Rescue Phone for over 12 years. The authors also brought the new QUAD Crisis Response Module for their review. According to Detective Kip Mello of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office CMT, the QUAD Crisis Response Module would give them an added advantage.

The CMT negotiators don’t have to hook into a copper phone line at a friendly house, something that is especially difficult in the middle of the night. Rather, they would operate using the built-in QUAD Bluetooth® Wireless Technology interface. This is one of the greatest advantages that the QUAD has over the agency’s current CRT.

For both the CRT and the QUAD, delivery of a wired throw phone is accomplished by SWAT or tactical team, because there are substantial risks in an operation that involves tactical flexibility. The throw phone is tossed from behind cover and can involve broken doors or windows. SWAT operators also have ballistic shields available. SWAT knows to expect the unexpected.

In a recent situation with a suspect, the safety of the SWAT deputies and police was a big consideration. Bomb squads from both the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office and the Tampa Police Department were requested, and a robot was used to safely enhance communication with the bad guy.

Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, Ohio, Police Department and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER. Mickey Davis is a California-based writer and author.

Published in Tactical Response, Mar/Apr 2013

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