Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Words and Music

This story won't be perfect- I'm far from my library at the moment:

Once upon a time, Mark Twain's wife grew disgusted with his cussing and decided to do something about it. After an especially voluble and eloquent outburst from Mr. Twain, Mrs. Twain repeated back every bad word. Twain looked up from his breakfast and paper and said, "My dear, those are the words, but you don't have the music."

The last two days have been spent at Hostage Negotiations and Survival training. The instructor has an impressive resume. An incredible resume, really- he has been teaching this for longer than I've been in the business, connected with some of the most impressive law enforcement agencies and organization in the nation for almost as long as I've been alive... but listening very closely as he told his story nowhere does he mention ever actually negotiating a hostage situation, never actually surviving as a hostage.

He's an incredible speaker, a raconteur (hope I spelled that right) entertaining as hell... but everything is just slightly off. For the first day, it wasn't that the information was bad, it was just that it was thin. Paraphased concepts from other sources I recognized, and some other things that are disputed by experts presented with great personal conviction. It was the words as he learned them, but it was missing the music of experience.

Today was bad. The Viginia Tech tragedy came at a timely moment, as he saw it, and he worked hard to connect the events (sketchy as the details are at this time) to his teaching. It didn't wash. The more he talked the more it became clear that he planned for a clean and theoretical world where the existance of one double murder would somehow automatically presage an active shooter scenario two hours later; that he just wasn't up to speed on current active-shooter procedure.

He presented information on debriefing hostages that at first made no sense to me. There are basically three types of debriefings: tactical debriefs, where you get the information you need for further negotiations or tactical assault/rescue; after-action debriefings, where the stakeholders figure out what went well and where to improve; and critical incident stress debriefing, where you do what you can to mitigate the psychological impact of the events. All three of these have distinctly different goals and protocols and they require different training. He had jumbled them all together as if they were the same thing.

He then moved on to his own special and copyrighted classification of hostage takers. It was bad. Not just a little wrong or a bit off, but actively dangerous to implement. A sociopath is not the same as an antisocial personality disorder. And Hannibal Lector was not a great example of how either of those really operates in the world. Grrrrr.

There were experienced officers in the class and some seemed to be eating it up. I worry for them, and for the people that they will train. Other officers who had a lot of experience in booking or psych were also perturbed. Today we were told with authority that you can't talk people down in crisis. Not every time- but I've done it scores if not hundreds of times.

I turned to Bob, "Are we special? Are we doing the impossible every day and we don't know it? Or is he just flat fuckin' wrong?"

He shook his head, "I know what you mean. I don't think we're special but the others look like they buy it."

I don't have a good answer for this one. This guy is one of the most acknowledged experts in the country. I don't believe a thing he says.

At the same time, Matt and Bob and I aren't special. We've dealt with a lot of crazy and violent people, a lot of emotionally disturbed people in crisis- what would be called Crisis Negotiations- but we've never negotiated a hostage situation. Direct supervision jail + booking + tactical team + years as the point sergeant for the mental health inmates... that's not special, or at least it shouldn't be.

No good answer for this one.


Anonymous said...

A hand sized remote spider scuttles across the edges of the bank floor, weaving in and around desks and trash baskets. From the back of a van marked MSCO CERT, an operator works the joystick; the spider creeps in for a closeup of a man pacing back and forth in the bank lobby, waving an
SKS and ranting about cultural inequalities. The operator gets the spider within 10 feet and then presses a button - twin metal probes spool out from a small cartridge and the bad guy goes down, screaming in pain with muscles locked in rigor. A SWAT team moves in. Game over. Negotiations through force.

Anonymous said...

That's cool you see through things like that.