Job Description of a Hostage Negotiator

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Criminals and political extremists use the threat of violence to hold individuals hostage. During this situation, there is a very real threat that the hostage taker will attempt to take the life of the hostage. Many hostage takers kill the hostages and then attempt suicide.

Other hostage takers are interested in negotiating deals with law enforcement. There are also hostage takers who surrender. The hostage negotiator's job is to encourage the hostage taker to end the hostage situation peaceably.


Hostage negotiators, also called crisis negotiators, work for state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. Once the hostage taker has been isolated, the hostage negotiator attempts to establish contact with him. The hostage negotiator must determine whether or not the hostage situation is a negotiable situation. If the situation is not negotiable, the hostage negotiator can try to turn the situation into a negotiable one. This can be done by asking problem-solving questions in an attempt to understand what the hostage taker wants. Negotiations that go positively, with the amount of violent speech and threats from the hostage taker diminishing, are maintained until the hostage taker is apprehended. Hostage takers who become more suicidal, volatile or panicked might need to be taken down by selective sniper teams or a traditional confrontational response with SWAT teams.


Work for a hostage negotiator can be very stressful and dangerous. Hostage negotiators can sometimes be put in the line of fire with the hostage taker, and some hostage situations might involve explosives or other destructive weapons. Hostage negotiators have to communicate consistently with mentally unstable individuals, which can take an emotional toll on the negotiator. Also, witnessing the death of hostages can be traumatic. Hostage negotiators often have to be on call, since hostage situations can erupt at any time of the day. Negotiators sometimes have to travel far to a hostage scene and can sometimes be expected to work unusually long hours.


Police officers often become hostage negotiators after showing a history of successfully talking down violent confrontations. However, professional organisations such as the International Association of Hostage Negotiators offer training and certification for hostage negotiators. Above average communication skills are essential for a hostage negotiator.


Police and detectives held 883,600 jobs in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The need for police and detectives is expected to grow by 10 per cent between 2008 and 2018. The need for law enforcement is primarily driven by population growth.


The median earnings for police officers in 2008 were £33,416, based on data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 10 per cent highest paid police officers earned more than £51,792, while the lowest 10 per cent earned less than £19,545.