It is relatively uncommon for a mental health professional (MHP) to become a member of a police department, sheriff's office, or state police department's hostage (crisis) negotiating team (HNT), even though there is evidence for the inclusion of an MHP leading to more peaceful callout resolution in the case of a hostage taking and a reduction in the number of callouts that end with tactical action being taken (see Butler et al, 1993 for more). For a minority of departments the inclusion of a MHP has been a common practice for many years. But what are the duties of a MHP on an HNT? Before I address this question I would like to advocate for a change in terms. I submit that instead of MHP our profession should use the term Psychological Consultant because MHP is a very broad term and may not clearly denote the duties performed by a MHP as part of an HNT on a SWAT callout.
So what do Psychological Consultants do when part of an HNT? I can speak from my own experience these last 17 years, and can also reference what I have learned from other HNT Psychological Consultants across the US and Canada. Common duties include:
1) Assisting the HNT by listening in on negotiations and suggesting methods and phrases for effective communication.
2) Listening in on negotiations and identifying psychiatric and other conditions that may be influencing negotiations, and then suggesting strategies for communicating.
3) Monitoring the team for stress or other factors that may influence ongoing negotiations.
4) Assisting with communication among the officers responding to an incident.
5) Assisting with the interview and debriefing of witnesses and those involved in an incident.
6) Assisting with suicide and violence risk assessment and prediction.
7) Assisting the HNT via ongoing training leadership and participation.
8) Assisting with new HNT member selection.
There are other duties I, and other Psychological Consultants do on-scene, but this list serves as a starting place and description of the most common duties.
I thoroughly enjoy my work as a Psychological Consultant on a number of HNT's. One reason for this, among many, is because an HNT sometimes has a chance to influence and change a situation instead of having to react to it. The peaceful resolution of a tense and seemingly impossible and deadly situation is a very gratifying experience. Kudos to all the Psychological Consultants giving of themselves to do this great work!