Since the introduction in the 1970’s of negotiation as a tactical option in law enforcement responding to crisis and hostage incidents, it has been vital to understand how to measure progress in negotiations as it greatly influences the decision-making process of command and that of other tactical options.

Through the analysis of case studies, it has been identified that progress in negotiations can be measured through the some of the following actions:

    • Emotional outbursts are declining, and conversations are getting longer
    • Perpetrator is in dialogue and sharing information of a personal nature and that of his/her motivations that have led to this action
    • Hostages are released
    • Weapons are surrendered
    • Absence of physical injury to hostages
    • The incident is static
    • A routine has been established

It is important to recognise that no list can be definitive and exhaustive, as there are a multitude of factors that may influence the behaviour of a hostage taker and/or hostages. We will now explain these in more detail.

Emotional outbursts declining

Hostage situations are highly emotionally driven situations that frequently have people releasing those emotions in their language.  As negotiators, we know that this includes language that can include threats, profanity, as well as other aggressive language.  An effective negotiator allows the subject to vent their emotions. The initial contact with the subject is often laced with emotional outbursts. One of the first indications of progress in negotiations is the decline of these outbursts over time.

Perpetrator in sharing dialogue

This is where the importance of using active listening to create rapport and trust comes into play.  Active listening and empathy builds rapport and can lead to some level of trust that can allow the suspect to open up, sharing information, and providing insight behind the reasons of their actions. The majority of hostage taking events are un-planned, with hostages being taken because of a subject experiencing a highly emotional event and acting on raw emotion rather than rational thinking. Getting the suspect to share his/her story helps provide the negotiators with insight the suspects perception of the event.

Release of hostages

Obviously one of the most significant signs of progress is the release of hostages. Although the release of one or all hostages does not guarantee that the suspect will comply with instructions and surrender, it does in most cases at a minimum give a significant indication that the suspect is open to coming out.

Weapons surrendered

Next to the release of hostages, the act of surrendering weapons is the most positive sign of progress. Although a very positive indication we must always assume the suspect has at least one weapon until he/she untenably comes out and submits to custody. In some instances, involving a single hostage, ammunition or weapons may be exchanged for food and other comfort items.

Absence of physical injury to hostages

An encouraging sign of progress is the absence of physical injury to the hostages, albeit any injury that took place prior to negotiator contact should probably not be considered. In situations where the hostage is an object of anger to the hostage taker, and the hostage taker not injuring the hostage may be especially promising.

Static incident

A static incident is indicated when for a significant period, the suspect is neither escalating in emotions or hostility nor deescalating. A static incident may still be considered an indication or progress if the suspect had spent a significant amount of time in a heightened agitated state and the mood, including hostages within the stronghold has become stable.

Established routine

As humans we tend to follow established routines, for example, eating, sleeping, going to the rest room, etc. and this becomes more prevalent over an extended period. Observing this can be considered progress because the suspect and hostage(s) generally must be in some form of a non-extreme crisis state to develop a pattern. Behavioural patterns within the stronghold are particularly useful in considering tactical intervention.

Recording progress

While it is essential to make progress in negotiations to achieve a peaceful resolution, it is also vitally important to record that progress and how it influences command decisions on the viability of the ‘contain and negotiate’ strategy. This is especially important given the rise of litigation in families pursuing claims following the death of loved ones in a hostage siege.

Law enforcement and military response to hostage sieges have been subject to judicial inquiry where there is a responsibility upon the State to investigate the actions of authorities in response to hostage sieges resulting in the loss of life: