SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — In Hollywood blockbusters where the hero hostage negotiator uses slick will and wit to win, the ordeal happens in under two hours from start to finish. In reality, hostage negotiating is usually longer than two hours and poses a real danger to everyone involved.
With that in mind, training to keep one’s skill in dealing with hostage takers has to be sharp.
The 29th Annual Hostage Negotiation Competition is a chance for agencies that participate to keep those skills sharp and put them to the test. This year, the competition was held in San Marcos and hosted by Texas State University.
Close to 30 agencies mostly from Texas interacted with volunteers/actors who portrayed someone who had taken hostages, among other things.
The facility was adjacent to the San Marcos airport. There were no trees around for hundreds of yards, and one side of the field was a small bunker filled with the actors all communicating to the police who were across the field in their command centers respectively.
The actors spouted conspiracy theories, threats, radical political ideologies and used other aggressive maneuvers to outwit the officers on the other line. In some cases, the exercised were conducted solely by text.
The competition was started in part by Dr. Michael McMains, a retired police psychologist.
“One of the things that has happened over the last 29 years as a psychologist is that we have more behavioral problems than we had 29 years ago. People are much more impulsive and angry, I think, generally.”
The crimes usually are the same, but the criminal has evolved. Now, technology is something police have to contend with — specifically cell phones.
“In the early days, we were feeding quarters into a pay phone. We would cut the line if we had to. We can’t do that now,” said Dr. McMains.
Another facet officers dissect in this competition is mental health and how to deal with a suspect who is suffering from whatever mental episode he or she may be having.
“One of the significant changes in Texas has been the development of a program to teach police officers and first responders on how to deal with the mentally ill out on the streets,” says Dr. McMains.
Still, one couldn’t help but notice how lackluster the atmosphere was for the day. Sure, the weather was textbook Seattle, Washington- dreary with patches of fog; but if you were expecting something out of Die Hard you would be wrong, according to McMains.
“If [negotiations] are done right, it’s really not that dramatic.”
The competition wraps up on Thursday.