The Elements of Police Hostage and Crisis Negotiations: Critical Incidents and How to Respond to Them

By James L. Greenstone

Published by the Haworth Press, 800/429-6784 (phone), (Web); 241 pages; $29.95.

Homer was known for beginning his epics in medias res—in the middle of things—which is an exciting way to begin a work but dizzyingly confusing for a reader without any context. James L. Greenstone takes a similar approach, diving right into the details of hostage negotiations from the outset. That’s ideal if you are an experienced negotiator, but not otherwise.

f you’re not already a police hostage negotiator, this book will not make you one. It is not a training manual, but rather a book of condensed information for someone who already works in and understands the field. Trying to learn hostage negotiation from this book would be like trying to learn to cook from reading a recipe: All the elements are there, but there is no background to provide context or understanding.

For those needing no introduction, the material is generally sound, but the information can be uneven. For example, the book contains an excellent chapter on dealing with an attempted suicide, but it wastes space elsewhere dispensing the obvious advice that single-parent hostage negotiators need to have an on-call babysitter.

There is a good chapter on effective negotiation skills, but also a page on self-relaxation techniques that are of dubious value. In short, there doesn’t seem to be a minimum standard of utility for the information presented. Much of it is indeed essential, but some of it comes across as filler.

A lot of the information is in checklist form, which makes it useful for someone who already knows what to do but needs an aide-memoire for the details. Police negotiators and SWAT teams are obvious audiences for this book, and it will serve their interests well. It could also be an interesting read for security professionals who might find it applicable to related fields, such as workplace violence prevention or executive protection.

Reviewer: Ross Johnson, CPP, is a retired Canadian Forces Intelligence Officer working for an offshore-drilling company in Houston. He is the membership chairperson for the Houston Chapter of ASIS International and a member of the ASIS Oil, Gas, and Chemical Industry Security Council.



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