Friends of the UNH Library: “Hostage Situations in New York City”

Ana Abraham

Last Tuesday, November 8, a small group gathered in the quiet third floor of the Marvin K. Peterson Library to listen to the latest Friends of the UNH Library speech. Dr. David Schroeder, an assistant professor of Criminal Justice and also an Assistant Dean of the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences here at UNH, gave a talk entitled “Hostage Situations in New York City”.

Dr. Schroeder explained that there is a surprising lack of research into what works and what doesn’t in terms of hostage situations. So, Dr. Schroeder has been doing research with the NYPD’s Hostage Negotiation Team (or HNT). He explained the difference between hostage and barricade situations, and the differences between real life occurrences and media portrayal.

A barricade situation is usually a one-person situation, and a hostage situation, by definition, begins the moment a suspect takes another person under control and subjects that person to the risk of bodily harm in order to further criminal actions or in order to facilitate escape. Hollywood, Dr. Schroeder stated, depicts hostage situations as occurring for one of three reasons: to aid in the release of prisoners, for money, or for their own escape. He says that in real life, hostage takers are people who generally have no greater criminal aspirations. Generally speaking, they’re just people who have “had enough and snap.” They often take out their aggression on whoever happens to be around, and that can possibly explain why many hostage situations involve family members.

Dr. Schroeder described the HNT as a group of ordinary police officers in New York City who are situated throughout the boroughs, but have specialized training in the art of Hostage Negotiation. He said that not everyone is cut out to be a negotiator and that the NYPD and the federal government have different methods of negotiation. The NYPD is much more patient. They will talk to a suspect for as long as the suspect keeps talking. The idea that somewhere, a clock is ticking is a moot point to this elite team, because they will continue to negotiate until they either achieve the favorable outcome, where no one is hurt, or until they are no longer able to. If the situation turns violent, then and only then will a tactical team go in like they do in the movies.

Dr. Schroeder also presented some interesting facts that his research with the NYPD brought up. In New York City, the most likely day of the week for an incident to occur that calls for the HNT is a Tuesday. Also, hostage situations tend to favor no season. Hostage situations also include intimate partner or family situations, although the majority of hostage takers are men. The NYPD HNT responds to an average of four situations weekly. This is why Dr. Schroeder stressed the need for research in this field, and thus an abundance of possible careers related to such research.