Negotiating for Success: A Law Enforcement Case Study with Universal Applicability in Human Services

James L. Greenstone, Ed.D., J.D., DABECI
Police Mental Health Consultant
Mediator and Arbitrator
Police Psychologist, Fort Worth Police Department, Retired.
Police Hostage Negotiator and Trainer
Fort Worth, Texas, USA

The success of negotiations is contingent on many factors operating together. This is true regardless of type of bargaining or intervention undertaken. So, what are these factors? Here will be examined several that may have wide use. The focus here is specific and law enforcement related, but the possible human services applications are broad regardless of the reader’s orientation.

On April 20, 1998, at 0335, negotiators were deployed to support an officer who was already talking with a person who was barricaded in his truck threatening to kill himself. Most of the issues seemed to revolve around family matters and husband / wife relational problems. The man’s name was Steven and his wife’s name was Betty. No one had been injured at this time.
At 0428, the primary negotiator began to speak directly with the person in the truck.

This is What Actually Happened
Below is a sampling of some of the actual responses that the negotiator / crisis intervener made to the barricaded person. Note the problem above and imagine, if you will, what the person in the truck may have said that evoked the following responses from the negotiator. What is the negotiator trying to convey under this very difficult situation? Is the negotiator consistent in his approach? How might you have responded if these responses were used appropriately with you during a trying event in your life or during any difficult negotiations? Where was the negotiator’s focus? Inappropriately, were might the focus have been? :

Steven came out at 0609.


Why did this work?

Most observers know that it did not work:

  1. Because all went perfectly;
  2. Because the methods that were used were somehow scientific;
  3. Because of "magic;" or
  4. Because of super-human skills.

All of this may have worked out the way that it did due to luck. This author’s guess is, however, that luck, combined with the following, actually allowed success to be achieved and at least one life to be spared. It is suggested that the reader consider the application of relevant factors to their own setting. Some may be more obvious than others. Keep looking:

And, maybe a little more luck.

Remember:  Good luck is usually the result of careful planning. And, that the above, perhaps with some modification, is useful in any type of negotiations, bargaining or crisis intervention where the stakes are high.

Suggested Related Resources

Greenstone, J.L. (2005). The elements of police hostage and crisis negotiations: Critical incidents and how to respond to them. Binghamton, New York, The Haworth Press.

Greenstone, J.L. and Leviton, S.C.(2002). The elements of crisis intervention: Crises and how to respond to them, Second Edition. Pacific Grove, California: Brooks / Cole.

Leviton, S.C. and Greenstone, J.L.(1997). Elements of mediation. Pacific Grove, California: Brooks / Cole.

Dr. Greenstone may be reached at  or

222 West Fourth Street, Suite 212, Fort Worth, TX 76102

Dr. Greenstone is the author of The Elements of Police Hostage and Crisis Negotiations: Critical Incidents and How to Respond to Them, The Haworth Press, Inc., 2005. ( He is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations: An International Journal. Dr. Greenstone has been a police officer, negotiator and mediator for more than 30 years.

Dr. Greenstone’s newest book, The Elements of Disaster Psychology: Managing Psychosocial Trauma will be released by Charles C. Thomas Publishers in February 2008.


This article was published in Human Services Today, Fall 2007 , Volume 4, Issue 1 . This article may be freely distributed for educational purposes provided above copyright information is included.

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