Retiring NYPD Chief Hostage Negotiator Comes From “Place Of Empathy”


Successful police hostage negotiators must “experience the emotion of love at one point in their life, to know what it means to have been hurt in love at one point in their life, to know success and perhaps, most important, to know what it means to know failure, New York Police Lt. Jack Cambria, who retires today after 33 1/2 years, tells the Wall Street Journal. “The very good negotiators, I think, are the ones with the life stories,” he said. As the team's commanding officer, Cambria, 60, has saved a detective held hostage, trained guards at Guantanamo Bay and even been a consultant on movies such as the 2009 remake of “The Taking of Pelham 123.” He has known failure. Just two weeks ago, Cambria oversaw a six-hour standoff between police and a man who had shot a New York City firefighter. It ended in what could have been a “suicide by cop” case.

Stuart Kirschner, a retired psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and one of the creators of the hostage team's training program, said Cambria's negotiating style comes from a place of empathy. “The (training) sessions that we had are incredibly moving, because he taps into their own experience. It's almost like group therapy.” Cambria says the first 15 to 45 minutes of a negotiation are the most crucial. “What we have to do as negotiators is manage that emotion level first, and by doing so, by bringing it down, rationality levels are coming up. So you can't have high emotion and rationality at the same time,” he said.

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