World Suicide Prevention Day: Shining a light on negotiators
A South Wales Federation member has shined a light on the role of negotiators, dispelling the myth that the job is all about talking when in actual fact, their biggest tool is being able to listen.
Detective Chief Inspector Jason Herbert says ‘it’s a real skill’ to find the right balance between being professional and remaining human, as he highlights the importance of police negotiators to mark this year’s Work Suicide Prevention Day (Sunday 10 September).
The 49-year-old has given an insight into the role, having worked with the team for around eight years now.
“First of all, getting the right support to people at a time of crisis is essential. The negotiator team are on call 24/7 and it’s important to note that almost every negotiator does the role voluntarily. That means that on any given day during that period, they could be instantly called away from what they are doing and sent to a life-and-death situation,” Jason explained.
“They might be on duty, or perhaps sitting there having dinner with their family in the evening, or watching television with their kids, or asleep, when they get the call.
“At which point, the negotiator will drop absolutely everything to do the very best they can for the individual who needs them. And, while every single negotiation is different, the goal remains the same every time and that is for a peaceful and safe resolution.”
Police officers are the only people in the country who can be trained to be a hostage and crisis negotiator - and that training involves an intense two weeks, in addition to annual refresher courses.
Negotiators will work in teams of two or more, which involves one person taking the lead while being supported by at least one other team member, who can help manage information and liaise with colleagues.
Working alongside fellow emergency services including the fire service and ambulance, negotiators will only ever be called if there is an ‘immediate threat to life’.
And, while few negotiations last days, a 12-16 hour negotiation period can be ‘quite ordinary’.
“It’s a common myth that negotiation is all about talking but in actual fact, listening is the most useful tool a negotiator can have in their toolkit,” continued Jason.
“Being a negotiator takes a special kind of person, with a specific skill set and a high level of expertise. That’s why there’s such a stringent process in becoming a negotiator. In fact, the two-week negotiator course is described as one of the most intense and difficult courses police officers can volunteer for.
“It’s all about building that trust between the negotiator and the person at risk - by metaphorically removing their police hat, while still remaining professional but always human. Getting that balance right is a real skill in itself.
“And remember, if the negotiators put the slightest foot wrong, it can reset the entire situation in an instant.”
Across the Welsh region, negotiators are called out around 500 times a year, with the vast majority of those call-outs resulting in successful outcomes.
“I’ve been told that the relief felt after successfully ensuring a person is safe cannot be replicated, the adrenaline and sense of making a difference in that moment is huge,” said Jason.
“I can’t laud negotiators enough. It’s a tiring job, one that comes with intense pressure and emotion - but knowing that they are quite literally saving a life is definitely why negotiators do it.
“Some negotiators will be called out, return home after a negotiation call-out at 3am and head into the office at 8am, and those around them will have no idea what they have been through that night.
“I don’t think many people see that side of the role - the unspoken tiredness, exposure to trauma and emotion that comes with the job. And that is why having a support network around negotiators is essential.”
World Suicide Prevention Day is an annual campaign that involves organisations and communities around the globe coming together to raise awareness of suicide prevention.
If you would like to talk to somebody about any of the issues discussed in this article then contact your local Federation representative.