Negotiator explains role during standoff situations

Twice in two weeks, law enforcement agencies in East Tennessee faced a standoff situation.

The first happened the first weekend in May, when man opened fire on the interstate before barricading himself in a home for several hours. The second happened Monday in Oak Ridge, when a woman approached her neighbor with a handgun before retreating inside her home.

Both ended without serious injury.

Lt. Patrick Upton serves as a negotiator for the Loudon County Sheriff's Department. He was not involved in the Knoxville and Oak Ridge standoffs, but has worked several others during his career.

He sat down with 10News to explain his role during a standoff situation.

"It's a very tense situation, especially the first 15-20 minutes in," Upton said. "In those minutes, everybody is running back and forth, you don't really know what's going on with the suspect."

Like many other negotiators, Upton attended special classes to learn how to calm down somebody who is armed, barricaded inside a building, and may have hostages. They often communicate with the person by phone.

"A lot of times we'll just use a land line, or even a cell phone. Sometimes we'll get close to a house or a residence and we'll talk through the window," he said.

He explained, most standoffs are prompted by a domestic situation. Alcohol or drug use will often escalate the situation. Many just need a conversation with somebody to calm them down.

"I think it's best in most situations to get whatever emotions they want to say out. If they want to curse you or say anything bad, let them get it out. Let them try to talk about it. Listen to them," he said.

Sometimes, that doesn't work and law enforcement is pushed to what Upton calls "tactical assault" -- using force. He said the rate of casualty is much higher at that level.

"No matter who they are, they've got people who love them," he said. "And we don't want to do anything to them if we don't have to. The main goal is to get them out safe, and for us to be safe."

In his nearly three decades of law enforcement, Upton said he's seen just about everything. Negotiations happen rarely, but when they do, it takes both a physical and emotional toll on the officers.

"You gotta be a good communicator, and you gotta be very patient, more than anything."


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