Spoken Armor: Getting to know THPD's negotiating team

For this group at the Terre Haute Police Department, no call goes unanswered.

Posted: Feb 21, 2019 7:15 PM
Updated: Feb 21, 2019 11:36 PM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - If crisis called you, would you accept or decline?

For this group at the Terre Haute Police Department, no call goes unanswered.

"We will talk for hours if that's what someone wants to do," said Detective Brad Rumsey, "We'll talk until tomorrow night or the day after."

Rumsey, Donny Toney and Eric Atterson are not only detectives, they make up THPD's negotiating team. Collectively, the trio consists of strong communicators who have a life-saving way with words. 

Normally, it is five members who make up the negotiating team, but there are currently two vacancies the department is working to fill.

Together, the current group has about 15 years worth of negotiator experience. 

"One of the things as negotiators, we want to be that lifeline," said Toney.

Negotiators are often considered as someone who helps resolve crisis through talking. They assist with the Special Response Team and are usually first on the scene in a crisis situation. There's always more than one negotiator who responds. 

"To come into the middle of this crisis, where something has gone terribly wrong and lives are possibly at stake, and to have some kind of role in resolving that, I think that's what most of us signed up for," said Toney.

"People need to realize it is deadly serious that we have a team like this," said Rumsey, "and it could be deadly serious to the public or it could be to the police, but the hope is it's not to anybody."

In order to be a negotiator, Toney says they have to attend three phases of training. The training is covered in a two-week span followed by earning a certification.

For THPD, the team trains 4 to 8 hours monthly every year, on top of additional training. Negotiators also have to go through recertification every two years.

Within the last two years, members say they've been called out to respond to a situation about 30 times.

During training, negotiators learn how to speak to someone in crisis. They are simple, but critical, elements when it comes to the conversations they have with those in need of help.

Negotiators learn the fundamentals and importance of active listening, building trust and having empathy. 

They also work to recognize hooks and triggers of a person in crisis.

Hooks are positive points in a person's life that can be used to help them think clearly in a situation, such as their children or a promotion at work. Triggers are negatives that could set them off or bring them back to a point of thinking irrationally such as a job loss, going to jail or even a custody battle.

For the negotiators, they say it's a job that involves a lot of thinking on your feet.

"That first time, and starting to get comfortable in that situation, it takes a while sometimes for the nerves to calm and just to be able to think clearly," said Toney, "but it's something you have to do. You have to set that aside to be able to come up with a plan, a strategy. How can I convince this person, who's in crisis, who's having a pretty bad day, to do what they don't want to do and to give up and come out, and surrender peacefully?"

During active situations, they say each person who responds to the scene has a specific role.

The roles usually include the negotiator (actively talks to the person in crisis), a coach (who is helping the negotiator) and an investigator (who is researching the background of the person in crisis such as family life, prior charges and other personal information).

The negotiating team has responded to some of the biggest cases within the Wabash Valley, including an abduction/standoff at Harrold Beauty Academy (Aug. 2017) and the 20 hour standoff of Mikey Reynolds (March 2018). They also assist other agencies outside of Vigo County. 

While many of their cases have ended in peaceful surrenders, they've had their share of those that didn't.

"We're trained, but we're more fallible, bendable, we're able to do a lot of things," said Rumsey, "but when the person at the other end of the line doesn't pick up, or is unwilling to bend in any direction other than where they want to go, it may end poorly because of their choices."

"Some of the situations we've been involved in, that didn't end the way we had hoped for, those are the ones that we don't forget and they're ones we always work to learn from," said Toney, "We certainly review them and try to figure out was this a mistake, was there something we could do differently, what did we do well, was there any way we think we could've changed this person's mind?"

It's a feeling that hits home for Atterson. He told News 10 his first negotiating call was for someone he knew. Following an hours long standoff, Atterson said that person took his own life. 

"It's something you think about almost every day, and it affects the way that you talk to somebody in the future," said Atterson, "and you question yourself, did I do everything that I could? I feel like, ultimately, I did everything that I could to try to help him get through that situation. We can try to influence others, but we can't make them do what they don't want to do."

Despite the losses the job may bring, the team says there's always a reason to take that next call.

"When you can be that person that listens to their problems, and helps them work through the problem that they're having and hopefully resolve that, at least long enough to get them the help that they need. That's really what keeps you coming back," said Atterson.

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