By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Officers from around Northeast Mississippi gathered at the BancorpSouth Arena on Thursday to learn how to diffuse hostage and crisis situations through negotiation.
In one room, officers were on the phone with a man who lost all of his money in a pawn shop poker game. The man was mad and holding everyone in the pawn shop hostage with a shotgun.
Officers negotiated with him, weighing their options and trying to get his focus off the hostages. The man on the other end of the phone continued yelling and threatening before hanging up.
The call was a part of a crisis and hostage negotiations class put on by the FBI and sponsored by the Tupelo Police Department.
Alan Chavers, lead negotiator for the Tupelo Police Department, and FBI Special Agent Jeffery Artis acted like people in crisis while representatives from 11 law enforcement agencies practiced talking to them.
“The training can benefit not only the department but also the community it serves,” Artis said. “The individuals know how to resolve the crisis through negotiations. Not all situations have to be resolved with a tactical team, that’s why the departments are receiving this training.”
Artis said most situations involve a person who just needs someone to talk to.
The Tupelo Police Department has two crisis negotiators and is training two more this week.
In addition to the Tupelo Police Department, sheriff’s offices from Lee, DeSoto and Pontotoc counties, campus police from Itawamba, Northeast and East Mississippi community colleges, and police departments from Mantachie, Fulton, Sherman and Booneville sent officers to be trained.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for more departments to have this training, and they won’t have to call the Tupelo Police Department all the time for things they could handle themselves,” Artis said. “What it does is create a team. Think of 30 individuals on a team spread out through the northeast part of the state as opposed to four, five or six individuals on a team here in Tupelo.”
Chavers, who has worked in negotiations since 2003, said he has dealt with all kinds of crisis situations from someone trying to jump to their death, which was his first negotiation, to someone using their children as hostages and negotiating leverage.
“A few years ago I had to work with a different agency on a negotiation but not everyone knew what to do,” Chavers said. “Now we’re all training together. This will put all the agencies here on the same page.”