Become a Police Negotiator: Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a police negotiator. Learn about the job duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in law enforcement crisis intervention.

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Do I Want to Be a Police Negotiator?

Police negotiators, also known as crisis or hostage negotiators, are usually highly trained law enforcement agents who attempt to talk people out of creating or maintaining a dangerous situation. For instance, they may use their communications skills to stop a person from committing suicide. Negotiators may also try to convince criminals to turn themselves in or to release hostages.

Negotiators who work at police agencies are usually peace officers with negotiator training, so they may spend most of their time doing regular police work. Federal negotiators often dedicate all their time to handling crisis situations.

Like all police officers and law enforcement officials, police negotiators put themselves at risk to protect the public. However, police negotiators might often have to put themselves directly in harm's way in order to get a criminal or person in crisis to trust them. They might also have to deal with the stress of feeling responsible if negotiations fail and people get hurt. On the other hand, they can often take a great deal of satisfaction from resolving a potentially volatile situation and so saving lives.

Job Requirements

General requirements to become a police officer include meeting eligibility requirements for the police academy, completing basic academy training and, in some cases, completing postsecondary classes or holding an undergraduate degree. To become a federal negotiator, individuals usually must have a four-year degree and experience in law enforcement. The following table lists the basic requirements for becoming a police negotiator:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Some college or an undergraduate degree*
Degree Field Law enforcement or criminal justice*
Experience In some locations, around one year of experience as a police officer**
Key Skills Comfortable talking with criminals and civilians, able to gather information quickly, good decision maker, kindhearted, strong understanding of the justice system, comfortable in difficult situations, and multilingual (as needed by region)*
Computer Skills Able to use software programs associated with police negotiation tactics**
Technical Skills Able to use police vehicles and special operations unit vehicles; familiarity with crisis negotiator communications devices (cell phones and intercoms)**
Additional Requirements Pass background investigations, possess physical strength, pass medical exams, meet age requirements, complete police academy, and take additional police negotiator training classes*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **City and state police department websites.

Step 1: Earn a Degree

Most police negotiators are also police officers, and, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some police departments require officer candidates to hold undergraduate degrees. Additionally, federal law enforcement agencies will only hire applicants who hold bachelor's degrees or higher. Common majors related to this field often include criminal justice and law enforcement.

Success Tip:

  • Take communications and psychology courses. Information from police department websites indicates that negotiators need to be able to talk with people and listen to their demands. Negotiators also need an understanding of human behavior to determine the best way to handle each crisis. Coursework in communications and psychology may better prepare individuals for these aspects of this career.

Step 2: Become a Police Officer

In most states, becoming a police officer requires completing police academy training. The BLS states that academy applicants are usually required to be legal residents or U.S citizens, 21 years old, and in good physical condition. Applicants must also have a clean criminal record, and, in many cases, must pass drug screenings and medical exams. Police academy training varies by state, but training courses may include firearms, physical defense techniques, computer training, defensive driving, criminal investigations, patrol procedures, and information about the criminal justice system.

Step 3: Get Law Enforcement Experience

Many police departments require new officers to build up experience prior to gaining additional specialty training. Some employers may treat this time as a probationary period to make sure new officers can handle the demanding nature of the job. During this time, new officers usually go through on-the-job field training, which can take several months to complete. It may take up to one year before new officers are eligible to apply for in-service hostage or crisis negotiations training.

Success Tip:

  • Work with an experienced negotiator. People who want to become negotiators may consider finding employment at law enforcement agencies that already have experienced negotiators on staff. Working with seasoned professionals may help individuals learn real-world negotiating tactics. Also, working directly with negotiators allows new officers to build valuable work experience.

Step 4: Take Negotiator Training Classes

Many police academies and other law enforcement training centers offer hostage and crisis negotiator training programs. These sessions often utilize both lectures and role-play scenarios to emphasize proper training. Most courses discuss the theories behind negotiating, including understanding criminal behavior, identifying potential mental conditions, and applying psychology to tense situations. Other training topics may include controlling the media, suicide intervention, tactical strategies, negotiator team-building techniques, legal concerns, and negotiation equipment.

Step 5: Work as a Negotiator

After completing the necessary training, individuals are eligible to work as police negotiators. Some work independently, but most join negotiator teams. Some negotiator teams are connected to special operations units, so negotiators may work in tandem with the bomb squad, SWAT teams, or canine units. In less-urban districts, negotiators may only have to handle dangerous situations a few times a year, so most of their time is spent doing routine police duties.

Success Tip:

  • Get continuous training. Many police departments offer employees monetary compensation for continuing their education. Negotiators may want to consider completing additional coursework or attending conventions that cover topics related to hostage negotiations, terrorism, crisis aversion tactics, or negotiation equipment upgrades. Completing continued education courses or seminars may also help individuals gain advancement opportunities.
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