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Let’s Make a Deal
Meet the expert crisis negotiators from SPS and SPF who took the top spot at an international gathering of law enforcement professionals.

Home Team News SPS-SPF Negotiators 01
GRAPHIC: Soo Jun Xiang 

The negotiations have taken a turn; as tensions rise, the hostages are threatened, and it’s a matter of life or death.

This was the challenge faced by a team of Home Team officers at the Texas State University Crisis Negotiation Competition and Seminar, held in January 2020 in San Marcos, Texas. 

Proving their mettle under fire, the officers from the Prisons Negotiation Unit (PNU) of the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) and the Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU) of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) emerged champions, topping a field of over 40 law enforcement units from around the world. 

Preparing for the Real Deal
This year’s competition marked the third time that SPS had participated. According to Superintendent of Prisons (SUPT) June Low, Commanding Officer of the PNU and Assistant Commander of Prison Visit Centres, the competition served as valuable exposure for the team, in preparation for the real deal.

This year, SPS’ participation drew the interest of SPF’s CNU, which specialises in conflict resolution and crisis negotiations. CNU is tasked with responding to incidents ranging from hostage negotiations to suicide interventions. 

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SUPT Rimyzad (left), Team Leader of SPF CNU, and SUPT June Low, Commanding Officer of the SPS PNU. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

“We first heard about the competition when we participated in a joint training session with SPS,” recalled Superintendent of Police (SUPT) Rimyzad Bin Abdul Hamid, Team Leader of the CNU and Commanding Officer of Bukit Batok Neighbourhood Police Centre. “Originally, we’d only meant to observe the event; to tag along. But as the Home Team contingent grew, we decided to consolidate our expertise and form a joint team with SPS.”

The officers – five from SPS and three from SPF – only met one another two days before flying off for the competition. With little time to practise together, they held many discussions over the next few days, forging a bond that allowed them to work together as a well-oiled unit.

An Unfamiliar Environment

At the competition, the team was tested on their response to a variety of hostage-taking scenarios. A primary negotiator takes the lead, supported by a coach who filters critical information and manages what is communicated to the hostage-takers. Intel officers back them up with research while mental health experts are on standby to defuse unpredictable situations and formulate strategies to move forward. Assistant Commissioner of Police Devrajan Bala, Deputy Commanding Officer (Ops) CNU and Commander of Jurong Police Division, attended the seminar as an observer, but took on the role of advisor during the competition.

One challenge that the team faced was competing in an unfamiliar setting and context. “When we were negotiating to get the hostages released, one question we had to ask was who we should prioritise saving,” explained SUPT Low. “The hostage-takers also made requests to call mayors, senators and governors. The hierarchy of these roles wasn’t always clear, so, we had to figure out the context so that our strategies were appropriate.” 

A few curveballs were also thrown at the team. At one point during the negotiations, a hostage-taker of unsound mind appeared. As he wasn’t receptive to logical requests, the mental health experts on the team had to intervene so that negotiations could proceed. 

“This was challenging because we'd already established a conversation with the other hostage-takers,” recalled SUPT Low. “It forced us to do a reset of the negotiations.”

Working as One Home Team
After an arduous negotiation process that lasted eight hours, the joint SPS-SPF team took the top spot, finishing ahead of teams from notable law enforcement units such as the Hays County Sheriff's Office, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

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Negotiating to save lives: At the competition, the team found themselves confronting a tense hostage-taking scenario set in a school. PHOTO: SPS
 
What gave the team the winning edge? 

Above all else, it was teamwork that helped them excel and win over the judges. "Although we come from different Home Team Departments and had to work together under difficult conditions, I felt very comfortable with our SPS colleagues," explained SUPT Rimyzad. "This demonstrates the shared Home Team culture that we’ve built up over time.”

Equally important was the team's emphasis on individual proficiency. “The judges were surprised that we had such a strong team, and I think we managed to build a reputation for ourselves,” said SUPT Low. 
 
Learning from the Best
The competition capped a two-day seminar on law enforcement issues taught by top experts in their respective fields. According to SUPT Low, what made the strongest impression on her was the accounts they shared of various crisis and hostage negotiation scenarios. 

“In dealing with a crisis, it’s important that we make our processes second nature to us, so that we don’t have to think about what we need to do, and can automatically respond,” she said. “The many hours of training and preparation that we put in matter, so that when the time comes, we’re ready.”

For SUPT Rimyzad, the competition was also less about winning than learning from other seasoned law enforcement professionals. One session was particularly memorable – when team leaders from the participating units gathered to share their best practices, from training and operating procedures to details about their equipment. 

Given that such operational details are usually kept confidential, these insights were invaluable. “It was really hands-on in nature, and it was never selfish,” recalled SUPT Rimyzad. “The open spirit of the sharing was just right.”

All in all, the competition served as a testament to the spirit, professionalism and effectiveness of the Home Team, and to the desire of our officers to keep learning and improving. 

“It’s uncommon to have hands-on experience of actual crisis negotiations,” said SUPT Low. “By participating in the competition, we not only upheld what the Home Team can do, we also validated our approach. This affirms that what we’re doing in Singapore is relevant, even in an international context.”
© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.


  1. by Soo Jun Xiang
  2. 28 April 2020
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