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How TPD's hostage negotiators help people in crisis

Posted at 6:17 PM, Apr 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-15 21:17:44-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The Tucson Police Department’s Hostage Crisis Negotiations team defuses dangerous situations, often by just talking and listening.

The negotiators jump into action when people are in crisis, threatening to harm themselves or others. Common calls include barricade or hostage situations, as well as serving search warrants.

The team responded to more than 100 calls in 2023, and sees roughly 10 calls each month.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Defusing dangerous situations: How TPD's Hostage Negotiators answer crisis calls

When a call comes in, at least seven or eight specially-trained officers respond in a specialized truck with a command center known as ‘The Knock.’ There are several roles involved in handling a scene, beyond the negotiator or negotiators doing the talking with the person in crisis.

The goal is to save lives—protecting the public, the police and the person posing a threat in the process.

Last year Sgt. Leslie Gallaher took over leading the team after nearly 20 years as an officer and more than 10 as a negotiator.

“Learning to talk to people is an art form, it’s a skill,” she told KGUN. “Get them to step aside from the crisis that they’re having, and really connect with that person, really helps them see that there’s something better than what’s going on right now.”

Calls last a few hours on average, though Gallaher says she has been on a call lasting about 14 hours.

“In the beginning, I was very awkward,” Gallaher recalled. “I wasn’t very good at talking to people. And a lot of hostage negotiation and [crisis intervention team] is listening. It’s not as much talking, but really listening. And active listening… I think empathy is a big trait that people need to embody when they come to this unit.”

Prospective negotiators also need to learn the technology and finish a 40 hour negotiations school put on by TPD and the FBI.

The training doesn’t stop. Once a month, the team works on scenarios and tactics to stay sharp. It also works with SWAT personnel twice a year for a special training.

TPD’s wellness team is there for support when critical situations end with someone getting hurt. But Gallaher says those unfortunate results are rare.

“I’ve talked to people after they were barricaded,” she said. “The people are very thankful, they see the SWAT team and they know what could’ve happened if they made a different decision… They’re just looking for help. And they maybe just don’t know how to deal with it.”

That’s when the negotiators answer the call.

Ryan Fish is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster in Santa Barbara. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs, frequently visiting family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important issues with Ryan by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.