Situational Predictors of Negotiation and Violence in Hostage and Barricade Incidents

Date01 December 2021
Published date01 December 2021
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2021, Vol. 48, No. 12, December 2021, 1770 –1787.
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© 2021 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
Independent Practice
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Independent Practice
We analyzed a data set containing 7,216 hostage and barricade incidents that had been reported to the Federal Bureau of
Investigation over a 35-year period. From two subsamples of the data set, we identified potential predictors of important
outcomes—resolution by negotiation or surrender and violence after onset. In a third subsample, we combined and weighted
the potential predictors to form two actuarial tools. We used three additional subsamples in the data set to cross-validate and
calibrate the scores of each tool. Predictive validity was acceptable across all subsamples.
Keywords: hostage; barricade; crisis; negotiation; violence prediction; risk assessment; HOBAS
Crisis incidents occur after conflicts go awry (Vecchi et al., 2005). The precipitants and
circumstances of such incidents vary widely (Grubb, 2020). Whereas some involve
distressed individuals contemplating suicide (e.g., Slatkin, 2003), others involve subjects
interrupted while committing criminal acts (e.g., McGowan, 2007). Still others involve
subjects who barricade themselves alone or with others after crimes or manhunts (e.g.,
AUTHORS’ NOTE: We are grateful to several colleagues, whose invaluable and steady support enabled us
to complete this project: Mark Flores, Scott Abagnale, Paul Dean, Mike DeVries, and Art Miller. We are also
grateful to colleagues who offered helpful comments: Robert Fein, Rick Frederick, Mary Rowe, and Mike
Vitacco. Opinions expressed in this article, along with any errors, are ours; they are not necessarily shared by
the U.S. Government, U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, or any other organization
with which any of us is affiliated. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Daniel J.
Neller, Independent Practice, P.O. Box 223, Southern Pines, NC 28388; e-mail:; or
Timothy C. Healy, Crisis Negotiation Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1 Range Road, Quantico, VA
22153; e-mail:
1017926CJBXXX10.1177/00938548211017926Criminal Justice and BehaviorNeller et al. / HOSTAGE AND BARRICADE INCIDENTS
Regini, 2002), or who take others hostage and make substantive demands in exchange for
their safe return (e.g., Pires et al., 2017).1
Crisis incidents transpire across a wide range of locations (Feldmann, 2001). Among
other places, they occur in homes (e.g., Wright, 1999), banks (e.g., Fuselier, 1999), schools
(Daniels et al., 2007), hospitals (e.g., Turner, 1988), forensic facilities (e.g., Vollm et al.,
2013), prisons (e.g., Katz, 2017), and airplanes (Dugan et al., 2005; M. A. Wilson, 2000).
Some take place across multiple locations (e.g., Amman & MacKizer, 2017).
The substantial majority of crisis incidents resolve following relatively rapid and suc-
cessful negotiation without harm to any participants (Butler et al., 1993). A minority involve
tactical interventions that end in the deaths of subjects (e.g., Donohue & Taylor, 2003;
Wesselius & DeSarno, 1983). And some resolve after violence is committed by subjects, in
which hostages, barricade victims, law enforcement officers, or bystanders are killed (e.g.,
Arin et al., 2019; Phillips, 2015). Among other factors, the very diversity and complexity of
crisis incidents pose a challenge for researchers and practitioners who seek to understand
the best ways to respond to these situations (Faure, 2003; Heppenstall & Hammond, 2018).
For decades the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has collected data on crisis inci-
dents (Lipetsker, 2004). Its centralized repository, Hostage and Barricade Database System
(HOBAS), contains reports of crisis incidents involving negotiations; the reports are volun-
tarily submitted mainly by other law enforcement agencies (Department of Justice, 2006).
Because of the voluntary nature of submissions, HOBAS might not sufficiently represent the
breadth of crisis incidents encountered by law enforcement officers (Mohandie & Meloy,
2010). In addition, as is common to law enforcement databases (cf. Canter & Youngs, 2009),
it is reasonable to expect HOBAS to contain many data omissions and coding errors.
Despite its possible limitations, HOBAS has many notable strengths that can advance
our understanding of crisis incidents. First, it is one of the largest databases of its kind. At
the time this article was prepared for publication, HOBAS contained information on more
than 9,000 crisis incidents. Second, HOBAS contains a wide breadth of case types, ranging
from barricades with or without victims to hostage-taking incidents involving subjects who
make substantive demands. Third, HOBAS contains data on crisis incidents that have
occurred across space and time, involving both domestic and international incidents and
covering multiple decades. (Personal communication with M. Flores, July 24, 2020).
A handful of researchers and practitioners have already utilized HOBAS to shed light on
crisis incidents. Murphy (2001) used HOBAS to quantitatively describe the features of
nearly 2,000 crisis incidents. Van Hasselt and colleagues (2005) used HOBAS to qualita-
tively describe a small sample of domestic violence-related incidents. Booth and colleagues
(2009, 2010) used HOBAS to quantitatively and qualitatively describe features of small
samples of captive-taking incidents in the contexts of domestic and workplace violence.
Small-scale descriptive and qualitative studies such as these contribute richly to our
understanding of crisis incidents (Daniels et al., 2015; Vecchi et al., 2013); however, they
do not leverage HOBAS in a way that generates actionable intelligence (cf. Bolz, 2001).
That is, prior studies involving HOBAS have not produced demonstrably robust informa-
tion or decision-making aids to inform incident commanders about the outcomes that matter
most to them—risk of violence and probability of resolution by negotiation or surrender
(RNS; for example, Noesner, 1999; Vecchi, 2002).
Indeed, aside from hostage situations transpiring outside of North America (e.g., Corsi,
1981; Yun & Roth, 2008), very few published studies have generated statistically based
decision-making aids, or actuarial tools, for use in crisis incidents. An exception involves a

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