The Negotiator Magazine

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Many crisis negotiators were taught to beware of any sudden improvement while negotiating with suicidal persons. The idea being if the subject sounds depressed and suicidal then suddenly sounds improved for no apparent reason, the difference may indicate that they have made up their mind to proceed with the suicide. If so, the pressure to make the "yes or no" decision to commit suicide has been made and the subject is now ready to proceed. This idea has been taught for many years.

The author's advice, surprising as it may seem, is to be wary of any improvement, sudden or otherwise. If the subject is depressed at the beginning of a negotiation, he or she will be depressed at the end of the negotiation. If mental health professionals could lift people out of a depression merely by talking to them for four or five hours, it would bankrupt the multi-billion dollar drug industry. Contrary to the opinion of Mr. Tom Cruise, most clinically depressed persons need medication.

The major difference between the start of a negotiation and the end of a negotiation will be the subject's willingness to accept help and his or her belief that the negotiator can provide that help. By selling the idea that the negotiator can provide help, he or she is also providing hope to the subject.

Crisis negotiators should not let their guard down just because the subject sounds better or is talking about the future. A suicide threat is not over until the subject is in handcuffs and being taken off for treatment.


In one of the 28 cases in the current study, a psychiatrist testified, in essence, against the police, in what the author is certain was a suicide-by-cop case. The doctor said without knowing anything about suicide-by-cop that the scenario did not have some classic suicide indicators. If suicide-by-cop cases looked like "regular" suicides, society would have recognized the phenomenon long before the early 1980s. Suicide-by-cop scenarios look different from "regular" suicides.


In one of the 28 cases, officers testified as to the subject being contained. Be very careful regarding containment in suicide situations. What keeps most subjects contained is fear of the tactical team, that is, the fear of being killed or injured. If the subject wants to die and has no fear of the tactical team, containment can become a dangerous illusion.


In the author's seminar note-taking guide there was a section entitled "Telephone calls from suicidal people." The author had been saying that suicidal people call the authorities because they want verification and permission meaning that they want someone to say, "You're doing the right thing and you have my permission." Additionally, they do not want to die alone. Great answer, right? There is only one problem with this great answer, suicidal people do not call the police; not one in 28 cases of the current study. Suicidal persons may call suicide hotlines but not law enforcement. Family members called in most of the suicide calls in the current study.

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August 2005