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Types of Hostage Situations

Hostage situations may occur under the following conditions:

1.Criminals may plan from the outset to use hostages as part of their criminal act to ensure their escape, gain ransom money, or for some other purpose.

2.Criminals may not plan to take hostages but become trapped inside an establishment they intended to rob. A quick response precludes escape, and they seize hostages as their way out. (This is probably the most common situation faced by law enforcement officers.)

3.In jails or prisons, prisoners seize hostages to highlight their demands for change (better food, more visits) or to assist in an escape. Sometimes a mentally disturbed prisoner may seize hostages for reasons associated with his or her particular mental disturbance. Prisoners often seize hostages to espouse a particular point of view (as did the Symbionese Liberation Army) (Alexander and Gleason 1981).

4.A psychotic person may seize hostages in response to delusional thinking (to right a perceived wrong or carry out a secret mission). A severely depressed person may conclude that the only logical answer to life’s pain is murder-suicide, usually involving family members. An individual with an explosive personality may hold his or her family hostage after destroying the contents of the house in a rage reaction.

5.Normal people who are under severe stress and become intoxicated may take a hostage. A parent may take a child hostage in a custody dispute, believing that the other parent is unfit and that this is the only way he or she can gain custody.

6.Political terrorists may take hostages, usually to achieve publicity, force the release of political prisoners, or gain revenge. Their demands go far beyond the authority of local police departments and usually cannot be handled by them. The likelihood of hostages being killed is much higher in this situation, since the terrorists have probably discussed the possibility or even the desirability of killing the hostages and may be prepared to die as martyrs.

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