The Operational Police Behavioral Health Specialist as a Member of the Hostage and Crisis Negotiations Team


James L. Greenstone, Ed.D., J.D., DABECI
Fort Worth, Texas


Hostage and crisis negotiations is a team event. It is not a one person performance or an ancillary activity. It is designed to manage and / or resolve very dangerous and often tricky situations. The nature of these situations often requires specialized, specific and multiple knowledge bases in order to be effective.  Effectiveness is measured by the loss of life avoided in the managing and resolving the situation faced by the negotiations team. Each member of the team must be experienced and specifically trained. While each will have primary skill sets, each team member must also be cross-trained to function in all team positions. Cross-training is needed to insure that all team functions are covered regardless of personnel responding. This includes the Operational Police Behavioral Health Specialist even though the first job of this member is advising and assisting with behavioral health and psychological concerns. This applies for both team members and actors. For these and a host of related reasons, the Operational Police Behavioral Health Specialist must be integrated into the hostage negotiations team. The OPBHS is not an outside consultant or add-on, but rather a counted and regular participant before, during and after all is said and done.

The Problem

The crux of the problem may be in not understanding that, “two heads are better than one.” The ability to approach a situation from varied and multiple frames-of-reference will insure a greater likelihood of success regardless of the opponent. Regarding the Operational Police Behavioral Health Specialist or Police Psychologist as an outside consultant to be held at arm’s length or regarded as an outsider is a mistake. This thinking is old-school and must be re-examined in the light of our current knowledge, current needs and the background and training of the OPBHS utilized.

Police officers are more sophisticated today regarding the impact of mental health problems and the likelihood of meeting these in the field. Behavioral health specialists are also more insightful and in-tune with police activities and issues than ever before. Many are, or have been, police officers. Most have received specialized training, or are willing to receive training, in police and crisis negotiations matters. What remains to be done is to accept and to integrate them into the inner circle of the team. They must know their purpose and perform their obligations just as any team member would be expected to do. For any well-functioning team, such earned trust is essential.

The Solution


Selection is the key. If you spend the time and get the right person for the job, the rest follows more easily. The right person should be a well trained and experienced behavioral health specialist. This could include psychologists, psychiatrists, professional counselors, social workers, and perhaps some others in closely related fields. Individuals who are also clerics may be considered, but only if they have the psychological background and training in one of the fields mentioned above. Alone, being a member of the clergy is usually not enough. Their primary training emphasis may or may not be consistent with police and negotiations strategies under the presenting conditions in which they may find themselves.

Applicants should be licensed by their state for independent practice and should have all of the appropriate certifications applying there unto. An M.D., Ph.D., Ed.D., or MSW degree would be preferable. However, consideration might be given to those at the sub-doctoral level if properly licensed and trained. Remember, whoever is chosen must be able to credibly interface with other healthcare professionals  and command staff, during various incidents.

The motivation of applicants for this position should be investigated. There are some who thrive on the excitement, adrenalin rush and the war stories that they will be able to tell. The selectee must be serious about the responsibilities of the job and the commitment of time, energy and resources that such an appointment might entail. (Greenstone, 2005, 2012) It may also be important to have the applicant demonstrate relevant skills. These might include maintaining a conversation on the telephone and face-to-face, analyzing a simulated situation, or even explaining in some detail how they will go about preparing and actually performing the tasks of the OPBHS.

Selection of the Operational Police Behavioral Health Specialist should be done by the active hostage and crisis negotiation team and the vote to accept an applicant should be unanimous. All team members will have to work with this person, and all should be willing to have the selectee on the team (Greenstone, 2012).


Make the professional who is selected to be the OPBHS a real part of the team. Insist on it. Accept nothing less from the OPBHS or from team members. The OPBHS is expected to function as a team member in all relevant team positions and to receive all of the necessary training to do so. Do not assume that just because your selection is a psychologist that they automatically know what to do. Regardless of how well they did during the selection process, now they will be expected to develop and to demonstrate the team skills. Because being a member of the Hostage and Crisis Negotiation Team requires diverse capabilities, the behavioral health specialist will be required to be knowledgeable about all of them and at all levels. If he or she is to be on the team, they must be a real part of that team. Make them feel at home early-on. The dividends realized will be substantial.

As soon as practically possible, issue any team equipment that may be needed. Encourage, even require, that the OPBHS report for call-outs in the appropriate uniform as team members, or in otherwise utilized and authorized attire.


The OPBHS brings to the team much from their own previous training. Now, they must also be trained to be a hostage and crisis negotiator; a hostage negotiator and a crisis intervener.  (Greenstone, 2003). A minimum of 40 hours of practical basic training should be required. It should be accomplished at the earliest possible time to insure adequate performance as needed. Additional courses in intermediate and advanced negotiations should also be encouraged during the early part of their tenure with the team. Acceptable and passing scores should be required in all courses undertaken. Documentation should be maintained just as it should be done on all team members. Additional courses and seminars should be sought by the OPBHS as needed. State law provisions for hostage training should be followed. Tactical and first responder training may also be recommended.

If the OPBHS is already a licensed and commissioned peace officer in the State, so much the better. Street and investigative experience is also a good marker. If the OPBHS is interested in being a peace officer, they should be directed to attend and successfully completed a basic peace officer training academy at the earliest time possible. If not, try to arrange and encourage some basic field experience. Ride-alongs can help to some extent.


Be sure that all are clear about how the OPBHS is to be utilized as a member of the team. While primarily there to advise negotiators and to help develop intelligence, the specialist may be used in other team related activities as well. Most of the time, the OPBHS will seek to fit in and to assist the team in anyway needed. From experience, it can be related that it may be necessary at times for the specialist to negotiate, to assist the negotiator as his second, to string cable, to advise command, or even to locate the nearest restroom. It is all in a day’s, and sometimes night’s, work.


Immediate delineations in this area is a must. The OPBHS must understand the schedules to be followed, and the possible call-out scenarios that might occur.  If the team is activated, the OPBHS is also activated and expected to perform. Planning should be encouraged and understood. The OPBHS should provide to the team leader a personal and professional schedule showing dates and times of availability and non-availability. If the OPBHS is not available, it is expected that they will arrange appropriate and acceptable back-up personnel to the degree possible. The team and the team leader must know up front how much time the specialist will give to the team. This includes before, during and after an event. Clarify, clarify, clarify (Greenstone, 2012).

Command interface

Appropriate interface with the command structure will occur. It may occur during an event with the on-scene commander, or between scenarios with the Chief of Police, Sheriff, or other agency head. How this is handled is important both to the OPBHS and to each member of the team.

Psychologist interface

k It will happen in the field where communication with other mental health professionals will be needed. This may be to gather additional intelligence or to discuss other aspects of a subject’s psychological demeanor. This is why the credentials of the applicant selected for this position are so very important. Professional to professional, they must be mutually respected and stand on equal ground to the greatest possible extent.

Medical interface

Some Hostage and Crisis Negotiations Teams also have Operational Police Physicians (Dennis, 2011). Interaction and consultation with this specialist may be necessary and even crucial to the negotiations process. Again, the professional-to-professional credibility must not be taken for granted. Regardless of whether or not the Operational Police Physician is a member of the hostage team, interaction with medical personnel may be needed. The OPBHS should be able to handle such interactions effectively. Other medically-related issues requiring attention may also present themselves (Greenstone, 2002).


Being ready, willing and able is a foregone conclusion. Any one of the three alone is not enough. How to accomplish all of these is at the center of this discussion. Understanding how a team functions and the importance of team member input cannot be over emphasized. Because each team member must bring their knowledge and experience to the team, the development of the team must focus on what is needed to do the job and on who can best bring this knowledge to bear. For instance, this is not a time for amateur psychological conjectures, anymore than a team would allow a poor communicator to negotiate. Recruiting and integrating the best available in all areas is crucial to future success. Generally, Hostage and Crisis Negotiations Teams are limited in size. This may be due to many reasons. Within the constraints, strive to acquire the best, to train the best, and to have the best work together with each other.


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Greenstone, J.L. (Winter, 2002) The role of tactical emergency medical support in hostage and crisis negotiations. The Tactical Edge, 20 (1), 33-35.

Greenstone, J.L. (Spring, 2003). Case study: How to be a mental health consultant. Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations, 3,1, Pp. 121-130. 

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, Inc.

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Dr. Greenstone is a Psychotherapist, Mediator, Arbitrator, Negotiator, Author, Professor, Police Officer and Police Behavioral Health Specialist.  He is well known as a Police Hostage Negotiator and Trainer.  Formerly, he served as the Director of Psychological Services for the Fort Worth, Texas Police Department and as the Operational Police Behavioral Health Specialist for the Hostage and Crisis Negotiation Team.  He has been in practice for 45 years, a Police Officer for 35 years, and is a Diplomate in Police and Criminal Psychology from the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology. 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 (  Another book, The Elements of Disaster Psychology: Managing Psychosocial Trauma was published in 2007 by Charles C. Thomas, Publishers ( ). Dr. Greenstone is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations published by Taylor & Francis Publishers under the Routledge brand. His newest book is the Third Edition of the Elements of Crisis Intervention released in 2011 by Brooks / Cole Publishers. Dr. Greenstone serves as a Colonel in the Texas State Guard, Texas Military Forces and is the Deputy Commander of a Medical Brigade. He may be contacted at



©Copyright 2012. Dr. James L. Greenstone
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