A Calming Influence, DOC’s Negotiation Teams Keep Prisons and Communities Safe
By Maria Peterson, Communications Consultant
Pop Quiz – which specialty team is: A key part of DOC’s emergency management system; the first line of intervention for a planned use of force in a prison; trained by the FBI or by using FBI standards; used frequently by local law enforcement to deescalate serious situations in communities?
Answer: The Crisis Negotiation Team.
“They are the unsung heroes of the agency,” says Director of Security Devon Schrum. “All of our specialty teams are important but this is the one team that could be used almost daily.”
There is a CNT at each of DOC’s eight major prisons. The 12-person teams are made up of staff from a variety of disciplines including correctional officers, counselors, AC cooks, and administrative staff. According to Schrum anyone can be a negotiator regardless of their job class as long as they have a unique set of skills.
“You need more than just the gift of gab to be successful as a negotiator,” said Schrum. “It involves more than talking. You need to be able to remain calm under pressure. You must be able to read body language, interpret tone of voice, have excellent listening skills, and be able to reach that person using only words.”
CNT is called prior to any planned use of force in a prison such as a cell extraction. Armed with only their voices and an identifying vest the negotiators speak to the inmates and try and deescalate the situation so that officers or can safely gain control of the offender or enter the offender’s cell.
“There is no way to tell how many incidents the negotiation teams have prevented,” said Schrum.
Schrum, who is a trained negotiator herself and the former president of the Western States Hostage Negotiators’ Association, said the prison environment is different than community negotiation settings because most of the interaction is done face-to-face. This creates distinct challenges for the teams which is why members are required to complete 8 hours of training each month. In fact, a handful of DOC staff completed FBI training alongside other law enforcement agencies in Bellevue in August. Training can be done on the job or in the community.
“Smaller communities with nearby prisons often call on DOC’s CNT because they are so well trained,” said Tomas Fithian, Chief of Emergency Operations.
Sergeant Anthony Boyle is a member of Coyote Ridge Corrections Center’s CNT and recently completed training alongside the other Specialty Team members. He said the training helped them refine their skills and figure out how the teams can assist each other.
“All of the teams are really one team with the same mission, to keep staff and the facility safe,” said Boyle. “The incident commanders have seen how the CNT can be effective and seen the incidents that we have prevented and they use us more often now.”
Recognizing the important role of the CNT, the agency recently updated the policy related to training providing CNT members an increase in training hours.