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Types of Hostage Situations

Bruce Rodgers

Hostage situations often present moral dilemmas to police administrators and commanders. For example, is a visit or phone call from the president, governor, or other important official in response to a hostage taker’s demands a precedent to be avoided, or is it negotiable? After apprehension, should promises be honored that were made under duress in return for surrender? Should hostage takers be permitted to leave the original site of the hostage incident, especially if they go outside the original jurisdiction? If a clear shot is available at a hostage taker who is about to leave the jurisdiction in accordance with negotiation promises, should that shot be taken? Would steps taken to terminate a hostage incident be different if the hostage was an illustrious public official or personality rather than an ordinary citizen who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Do all lives in a jail or prison hostage situation have equal weight (for example, the lives of murderers, pimps, rapists, robbers, and those on death row)?

These questions have no clear-cut answers, since they involve moral issues and personal value judgments. It should only be noted that when police commanders are faced with these issues, they must consider the precedent that will be set by whatever action they choose.

This article is an excerpt from Psychological Aspects of Police Work: An Officer’s Guide to Street Psychology by former police officer and federal agent, Bruce A. Rodgers, PhD.

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