SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — Hundreds of law enforcement officers are on Texas State University’s campus — but there’s no cause for alarm.
They are participating in a unique annual training at the university’s annual competition and seminar for crisis negotiatons.
“We’ll handle two or three incidents a year all the way up to maybe six. We’re on-call 24/7 for that,” says Duwayne Poorboy, the assistant leader for Hays County’s crisis negotiation team.
Every year for 12 years, Poorboy and his team, who each have other law enforcement duties, get back to basics.
“As police officers our “job” is to solve problems, but when we get into situations like this we actually have to listen before we can do any of that. We can’t make the mistake of trying to solve the problem because that just upsets people and we’re trying to keep everybody calm,” Poorboy explains.
He joins more than 300 other law enforcement officers at the Hines Academic Center, each team trying to handle a simulated hostage situation.
Organizers say this is a one-of-a-kind competition and training, bringing in first responders from across the state, country and even around the world.
“We are unique. This is really the first, the largest and pretty much the only one of this scope in the world,” says Wayman Mullins, a Texas State criminal justice professor who organizes the event each year.
The competition spans three days and this year includes 40 teams from as far away as Canada and Singapore.
Mullins is also part of the Hays County crisis team and for decades, he has seen the effect negotiation skills can have in the real world.
“If we show up, get the opportunity to talk to somebody, from that point forward there’s over a 90% probability that no one gets hurt,” Mullins says.
Teams are judged by experts in the field, who offer notes to take home.
Those judges also fly in from different states, like New York and Florida, as well as other countries, like Scotland and Germany.
Even if they don’t win a trophy and bragging rights, participants walk away improved.
“Active listening, calm the crisis, then we can engage in problem-solving and help, hopefully, people make good decisions,” Mullins says.
“We don’t just save lives, we change lives.”