The Hostage Negotiation Unit is part of the special operations component of the Police Department that also includes the S.W.A.T. Team and Bomb Squad. The negotiation team is composed of nine officers and one sergeant. Being a negotiator is a collateral duty for officers, meaning it is in addition to their regular assignment to the Operations or Investigations Divisions. In preparation for handling critical incidents, Negotiators attend discipline-specific training and learn to utilize specialized equipment. To maintain proficiency, the Billings Police Negotiation Unit trains once a month and participates in joint exercises with the S.W.A.T. team and Bomb Squad.
Negotiators respond to situations involving hostage taking, barricaded subjects, suicidal individuals, or people experiencing a mental health crisis. Negotiators may be called to work with people in all sorts of tumultuous situations regardless of how the incident is categorized. Their role is to establish communications with the subjects involved and resolve the situation peacefully. To be effective Negotiators make use of communication skills, de-escalation techniques, their knowledge of psychology, and team work.
While Negotiators are speaking to the subjects involved, they are continuously evaluating the stability of the situation, and relaying crucial information to other on-scene officers. The information they gather and provide influences the decisions and actions of the command personnel. Ultimately, the dialogue they enter into can potentially save the lives of not only hostages, but also those of responding officers, and even the suspect.