WPD Crisis Negotiation team tackles wide range of emergency situations

WPD’s six crisis negotiators are always on call, ready to respond at a moments notice
Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 6:49 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - When you think of a police officer, your mind probably goes to someone in a patrol car, driving city streets and looking for bad guys, but there’s a lot more to the job than just arresting people.

More and more often, law enforcement has to deal with situations that require more than force to remedy. From standoffs to potential suicides, the need to adequately handle crisis situations is greater now than ever before.

The WPD Crisis Negotiation Team is one unit most people don’t get to see very often. This team of officers actually have jobs all across the department, but their crisis negotiation duties are something they do in addition to their everyday job, called a collateral duty.

Whether they’re a recruiter in the office, on patrol, or asleep in bed, WPD’s six crisis negotiators are always on call, ready to respond at a moments notice.

“We take our job very seriously. Just like the vast majority — all the officers on patrol — when they’re dealing with folks who may be involved in some kind of domestic situation, the first tool that we have, is the most effective tool that we have is our mouth,” said Cpl Ronald Evans.

Unlike the movies, Evans says most of their calls can be quickly and safely resolved, but the team trains each month to be ready for anything.

“We do have moments where tensions are heightened, the entire atmosphere is just elevated to another level where you’re on pins and needles, sitting on the edge of your chair anticipating what’s going to happen, but still staying cool, calm and collected to get the issues resolved as fast as possible,” said Evans.

However, no member is ever alone working a call. Once the unit is mobilized, each team member steps into a role as either the primary negotiator, a secondary, a scribe or working on gathering intelligence.

Each team member is critical to the goal of getting the suspect out safely, whether its the secondary handing post it notes off to the lead negotiator, or the scribe keeping track of the call on the whiteboard.

Thursday afternoon, the team ran a mock scenario in their specially outfitted trailer. For the exercise, another officer situated in a separate location posed as a suspect wanted on a domestic violence warrant who barricaded himself in his home. The first drill ran just 15 minutes but the negotiators agree it feels more like five, as they run through their protocols and regroup each time the “suspect” got agitated and hung up the phone.

While Thursday’s calls were just a simulation, the stakes are much higher for the negotiators when they deal with real human beings, with real problems and complex emotions.

“Something that they teach us in negotiator training is, one of the main questions they have is, ‘How long do you negotiate with someone? How long do you sit there and try and rectify the problem?’ and the answer is: as long as it takes,” said Evans.

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