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‘It was the one incident where I genuinely thought someone was going to die’

January 14, 2021
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The clock was ticking as a child with life-limiting medical issues started having seizures in front of police officers during a stand-off in a city centre coffee shop.

The child had been taken hostage by a mentally-ill man after police and emergency service colleagues were called to an incident at Costa in the Old Market Square.

Frontline officers tried talking to the man to persuade him to hand over the poorly child but there was no sign of a making a breakthrough.

That’s when Detective Inspector Becky Hodgman, an experienced specialist police negotiator and now a team co-ordinator, got the call.

“Negotiators quickly arrived on scene. It was quite calm inside the coffee shop and there was never really a moment of arguing or violence. He was engaging with the negotiators but didn’t hand the child over,” she explained.

“The critical issue was that we had a collapsing timeframe because he had pulled out the child’s intravenous feeding tube which meant she wasn’t getting any food or medication.

“She started having seizures in front of us. Watching that I genuinely thought this was one incident where someone was going to die.”

As team co-ordinator, DI Hodgman acted as a conduit between the incident commander and her two negotiators who were at the coffee shop with her.

She added: “It was vital that we kept talking to the man and keeping him focussed on us. We also kept in conversation with the paramedics to see how much time we had and what could happen in regards to the child’s condition.

“The man had always been holding an implement during the incident, whether it was a fork or a sharpened pencil, and I’d discussed with the incident commander that should he drop it or put it down we’d all seize hold of him. We were just waiting for it to happen.”

The stakes were raised when the man started to point the implements at the child’s head.

When he dropped the sharpened pencil and reached to the floor to pick it up, the critical moment came.

Officers grabbed hold of him, released the baby from his grip and then managed to detain him.

It brought an end to the five-hour stand-off, which unfolded on Monday 3 February, and the child was safely reunited with her mother.

DI Hodgman, who is now in her tenth year as a negotiator, was a response officer with Nottinghamshire Police when she applied for the role.

She said: “I wanted to help people when they don’t think they have another way out and help them to see there’s another option.

“The types of incidents we’re called to are incredibly diverse and they can go on for hours.

“We often get called out to communicate with people if there are concerns for their safety but it’s not always occasions where people are in crisis and where there’s an imminent threat to life. We also get called to incidents such as domestic sieges and on occasion, we will be asked to speak to high-risk missing people.”

The force currently has six negotiator teams, each comprising three team members including a co-ordinator who is like a team leader.

The force’s current negotiators come from all areas of the organisation.

Teams operate on an on-call basis and work seven days in a row, committing to duties above and beyond their regular positions.

They are expected to be available for deployment at short notice and often find themselves called out to work during unsociable hours.

Because of the nature of the incidents faced by negotiators a particular skill set is paramount.

A negotiator will be expected to have excellent communication and listening skills, be able to read body language and think dynamically.

Negotiator training includes completing an intensive two-week course, consisting of classroom tuition followed by realistic role-playing exercises and scenarios running the evenings, followed by an interview process.

DI Hodgman added: “The negotiator courses are quite intensive which can be tiring and emotionally draining but I think that’s important as it mirrors the reality of the situations they might find themselves in.

“Once we’re requested by the Control Room to attend an incident we will assess the situation, give advice and then deploy as a team.

“We become like a tactical adviser to the incident commander at the scene of an incident.

“As a negotiator you can’t cut your emotions off, you’ve got to have a personal element to it and be able to get your compassion and empathy across.

“Also we always have a debrief with our negotiators after an incident which gives them the opportunity to talk about how they’re feeling and help to manage their own mental health and wellbeing.

“I love being a negotiator – I think it’s the best job within our organisation. You never know what type of incident you’re going to be called out to or what it’s going to be about.

“You’re able to give something back, beyond your regular daily duties, and make a difference to people’s lives.

“You get to work with different personnel from different departments and when a situation is safely resolved after successful negotiation it is incredibly rewarding.”

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