CMH staff join Washtenaw Crisis Negotiation Team

Last November, five mental health professionals from Washtenaw County’s Community Mental Health were tapped by the Sheriff’s Office to join Washtenaw County’s Crisis Negotiation Team. 

During the first week of December, the CMH staff attended a one-week FBI crisis negotiation course in Troy, Mich. to learn negotiation tactics for dealing with suicidal subjects; communicating safe surrenders of armed, dangerous, and barricaded suspects; negotiating hostage rescue operations; and more. 

Later that month, the clinicians trained with the team, which includes 17 individuals from the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, Ann Arbor Police Department, University of Michigan Department of Public Safety, and Eastern Michigan University Police Department who all have advanced training in negotiating crisis situations. 

And throughout, the mental health professionals built their schedules around a carefully structured rotation that would ensure that at least one staff clinician and one backup would be on call for emergencies 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

But it wasn’t until Monday, February 3 that they got their first call. 

The individual wasn’t a terrorist or a sniper, though he did threaten to shoot law enforcement officers and had multiple weapons in his home. Instead, he was someone in crisis. 

And after six hours of negotiations, including conversations about his crisis situation and the multiple life stressors that led to it, he willingly surrendered and was taken to the hospital for assessment and treatment. 

“Quite a bit of the negotiation time was spent reminding him about everything he had to live for,” says Katie Hoener, who was one of the clinicians who responded to the incident. “Crisis negotiators talked to him about his family, an upcoming wedding, and reminded him that these were things that he wanted to be present for.” 

After three months with no crisis negotiation calls, the second call came less than a week later when a resident became violent under the influence of substances. He had shot another young man, then retreated, barricading himself in an apartment. He called 911 to report the incident and to negotiate his safe surrender. And after two hours of negotiation, the surrender took place without further incident.

“Washtenaw County’s Crisis Negotiation Team has been a collaborative effort since 2009, and it’s been immensely beneficial because we have members from different agencies on the team who all bring different backgrounds, experiences, and connections with them. But the one thing that we were really missing is the advanced mental health education,” says Nancy Hansen, Crisis Negotiations Team Commander. 

“Washtenaw County Community Mental Health is now there to give us guidance, providing an assessment of the suspect’s potential risk for violence or suicide, especially when it’s someone who has been receiving treatment,” says Hansen. “And because these types of negotiations take a toll on everyone in law enforcement, especially the crisis negotiators, the counselors help monitor stress levels during the incident and listen to and support team members during our after-incident debriefings.”