How Hostage Negotiation Works

By: Ed Grabianowski

Becoming a Hostage Negotiator

Role-playing -- in this case, acting out a hostage situation -- has become a hallmark of law-enforcement recruit selection.
Role-playing -- in this case, acting out a hostage situation -- has become a hallmark of law-enforcement recruit selection.
Photo courtesy

The path to becoming a professional hostage negotiator can be a winding one. There are training courses and certifications, but an important aspect of dealing with a crisis is experience. Someone fresh out of college could take every negotiator training course ever offered and still not get a job as a negotiator. The bedrock of a negotiator's career is several years working as a law-enforcement officer (whether with the police department, FBI or other law-enforcement group) or in the military and dealing with crisis situations on a regular basis. "You hone your skills as an officer, because you talk to people all the time. A lot of the people you talk to, while not in an 'official crisis,' are in some kind of crisis situation," said Lt. Schmidt. "You learn a lot just from active listening and interacting with people."

Education and training is important as well, and there are plenty of courses being offered to help police officers, FBI agents, military personnel and others learn how to negotiate in a hostage situation. The Public Agency Training Council (PATC), a private company that offers training courses to law-enforcement agencies, has courses on dealing with emotionally unstable persons, specific tactics for use in negotiations and complete negotiator courses (see PATC: Hostage Courses). The International Association of Hostage Negotiators also sponsors seminars and training courses (see Training Schedule and Information).


A hostage negotiator's training is never complete. The FBI and other agencies offer recurring training seminars. The Cheektowaga Police Department's crisis negotiators have teamed up with other law-enforcement agencies in their region to form an association that meets several times each year to offer critiques, suggestions and support.

To explore one example of the training process for a hostage negotiator and find out what type of factors trainees are evaluated on, see the Hostage Negotiation Study Guide 2003 developed jointly by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

For more information on hostage negotiation and related topics, check out the links below.

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More Great Links


  • Antokol, Norman & Nudell, Mayer. No One a Neutral: Political Hostage-Taking In the Modern World. Alpha Publications, 1990. 0-939427-78-8.
  • Aston, Clive, C. A Contemporary Crisis: Political Hostage-Taking and the Experience of Western Europe. Greenwood Press, 1982. 0-313-23289-x.
  • Center for Contemporary Conflict: The Moscow Hostage Crisis: An Analysis of Chechen Terrorist Goals.
  • Barker, Ralph. Not Here, but In Another Place. St. Martin's, 1980. 0-312-57961-6.
  • BBC News: 1972: Olympic hostages killed in gun battle.
  • BBC News: 1976: Israelis rescue Entebbe hostages.
  • BBC News: 1977: Dutch children held hostage.
  • Miller, Abraham. Terrorism and Hostage Negotiations. Westview Press, 1980. 0-89158-856-6.
  • Special De Punt Train Hijacking.