“My First Siege”[1]


Problem: In 1982, a violent drug dealer takes his sister and her two small children (ages 4 and 9 months) hostage on a train.  The State Police intervene and call in the FBI who send in negotiators. The negotiations go on for 72 hours. Here is an outline of action steps, responses, and developments.

Phase One: Local Police

Step 1: Gather information, especially information about the psychology of the people involved.

Application: FBI discovers that the suspect has a significant criminal and mental health history.

Step 2: Develop a working hypothesis.   

Application: This is an unplanned domestic dispute, which means that the suspect has no exit plan.

Development: Suspect fires shots.

Step 3: Evaluate options.


  1. Rescue attempt.
  2. Initiate dialogue.
  3. “Wait and do nothing” (“dynamic inactivity”)

Step 4: Select best option.

Application: Initiate dialogue.

Problem: Local cops did not have a Spanish speaking negotiator.

Solution: Recruit Spanish speaking EMT who attempts to initiate dialogue with bull horn.

Development: More shots.

Development: Negotiator persists.

Development: No response from suspect.

Development: Four hours later: Suspect shouts out “Everything is okay.”

Development: Negotiator responds.

Development: Suspect returns to radio silence.

Development: 10 hours later, Suspect says he is threatening one of children.

Step 5: Get more information to assess current risks (e.g. health of children).

Development: 1.5 hours later, Suspect fires two shots in rapid succession, indicating that he has an assault weapon.

Note: Impact on leverage.

Development: 1.5 hours later, Suspect increases threats of violence and demands OJ and matches.

Response: Water for children.

Step 6: Ask for help.

Application: Local police call FBI.

Phase Two: FBI

Step 1: Define problem for new team members.

Application: Frustration initiating dialogue.

Step 2: Refine prior strategy.

Application: Encourage dialogue by verbalizing the fears and concerns motivating the Suspect’s refusal to talk.

Application: Quality of the voice – calming.

Step 3: Assign roles to team members.

Step 4: Gather more information about Suspect.

Development: Suspects says his sister is dead.

Note: Negative momentum.

Step 5: (When what you are doing isn’t working) change negotiators.

Step 6: Establish rapport.

Application: Persistent friendly monologue.

Response: After 2 hours – angry outburst from Suspect.

Suspect request IV fluids for children.

Step 7: Show good faith.

Application: FBI attempts to comply.

Development: FBI smells rotting corpse.

Step 8: Gather more information about the children.

Application: Pediatrician – critical – maybe 12 hours before baby dies.

Development: Suspect requests food and water.

Response: Compliance with no request for reciprocal concessions.

Step 9: Reiterate what you have done to show good faith (“positive police actions”), along with what you could have done and didn’t.

Step 10: Propose partial agreement.

Application: Food for gun.

Step 11: When momentum turns positive, press for more.

Application: Ask that he come out with children.

Development: Suspect wants his lawyer first.

Development: Suspect says the baby is dead.

Step12: (When what you are doing isn’t working) change your tone.

Application: From friendly to more dominant and assertive.

Step13: In critical situations, improvise and take more risks.

Application: Negotiator approaches Suspect to retrieve remaining child.

Development: Suspect turns child over.

Development: Suspect’s lawyer arrives and Suspect surrenders.

A classic example!

[1] A summary of Stalling for Time, by Gary Noesner, Chapter 3.