Crisis defused

Sheriff's office navigates the complexities of crisis negotiation

Ashley Hunter
ECB Publishing, Inc.

Law enforcement officers with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office (JCSO) were recently called to a local neighborhood in response to a citizen who was undergoing a personal crisis that led to concerns regarding the individual's distress.
When people think of community policing and law enforcement, the first thought to come to mind is pulling over speeding drivers, drug prevention, arresting those who break our nation's laws and educating young locals.
While these things are all important and visible aspects of being in the law enforcement career, there are often other tasks that are 'behind the scenes' of every badge.
The modern law enforcement officer, whether employed in a small, rural department or larger inner-city agency, is often a highly-trained individual that is prepared to handle a variety of crises, threats and issues within the communities they serve.
Locally, one such highly-trained individual is the JCSO's Lieutenant of Investigations Dan Williams.
On Tuesday, Jan. 7, Lt. Williams was summoned to a local neighborhood in order to make contact with an individual who was undergoing their own personal crisis. Unlike many situations where law enforcement officers are visually noticed when performing their job, Lt. Williams' task on January 7 was less visible to the community, but no less important to those he was tasked with serving and protecting.
In 2014, Lt. Williams was sent by the JCSO to receive training at the Institute of Police Training Management (IPTM), in Jacksonville, Fla.
The cost of the training was sponsored by the JCSO, and Lt. Williams says he was approached and sent to the training by JCSO's Major Bill Bullock.
“He saw the need for this training back then,” says Lt. Williams. “He came to me and asked if it would be something I would be interested in.”
At IPTM, Lt. Williams underwent three weeks of course training that equipped him with the skill sets, understanding and experience to return to his agency as a crisis negotiator.
The institute puts its trainees through several realistic exercises that are based on true-to-life scenarios that prepare them for future occasions.
“It's really, really good training,” adds Lt. Williams.
During his training at IPTM, Lt. Williams was surprised to learn that many of the tactics employed by crisis negotiators are already used regularly by JCSO's deputies, even without the deputies having received the official training.
“We already kind of did that on a daily basis, just not that in depth,” said Lt. Williams. “Because we are a smaller, rural agency, a lot of times we've got to be able to talk to people, see eye-to-eye and come to a common understanding.”
Outside of the recent occasion on January 7, Lt. Williams says that the JCSO's officers rarely have to conduct negotiation with a citizen undergoing a crisis; but the skills he has required through his training have come in use multiple times throughout his career.
Very rarely is Lt. Williams called in to actually negotiate a crisis, but having the three-week training has assisted him in interviewing potential suspects as well as witnesses and victims of various crimes.
While having the training in defusing and deflecting an actual crisis management, Lt. Williams says, is a useful specialty education for law enforcement officers, it still isn't common for him to have to come in and be a negotiator.
In fact, the January 7 incident was the first time Lt. Williams says he has truly been called in by his agency in order to serve as a negotiator for a civilian crisis.
Lt. Williams has been with the JCSO for over a decade, with April of this year marking his eleventh year of service to the Jefferson County community through the JCSO.
“Regarding the recent crisis incident involving one of our citizens, I am extremely proud of the dedication and professionalism Lt Williams displayed that evening to ensure we had a safe and positive outcome,” said Jefferson County Sheriff Mac McNeill. “There is no doubt he saved a life that night.”
A moment of crisis is complex for both those who are in the midst of it and those who are trying to reach in and assist them. Employing the training that he had previously received, Lt. Williams was able to navigate those complexities, reach a place of understanding with a distraught citizen and ensure that the JCSO's recent need for a crisis negotiator ended successfully and safely for all those who were involved.