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OCSD Crisis Negotiation Team helps diffuse tense situation with barricaded man

Get them talking. Make a connection. Diffuse the situation.

These are the tenets of crisis negotiation, but the process is much more nuanced and complex than it sounds.  

It was approaching 9:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 13, when the mother of a 3-year-old called the Sheriff’s Department to report the child’s father refused to release her daughter. Her ex, the woman told dispatchers, was acting strangely and had two of his firearms laid out on a table inside the home.

The woman was able to pull her daughter out but, as deputies arrived, multiple shots were fired from inside the house.

A perimeter was set up, a K-9 team was summoned and SWAT was called out.

Any time SWAT is called or a high-risk search warrant is served, the Sheriff’s Department also immediately deploys resources from its Crisis Negotiation Team. The team, which is an ancillary duty for 21 deputies and three sergeants, is trained on how to resolve adrenaline-inducing scenarios such as hostage situations or barricaded suspects.  

Deputy Smith, along with other members of the CNT, were called out to assist SWAT with the child custody exchange gone awry in the 34500 block of Camino Capistrano in the city of Dana Point.

“We work as a team and everyone knows their lane and what to focus on,” Smith said. “While SWAT might be focused on tactics and the entirety of the scenario, as the negotiator, I would be focused just on the barricaded subject.”

In their intelligence gathering phase – the first step in a negotiation -- the team learned the barricaded man was a Marine. Deputy Smith had also served in the Marine Corps and thought the shared bond might be a benefit.

For more than an hour, Deputy Smith tried to get the man to engage with him.

“He answered once briefly, then hung up. Then we started texting,” Smith said. “I communicated with him Marine to Marine and convinced him to pick up the phone. The first thing I asked him was, ‘Are you OK?’”  

The conversation started irate with the barricaded man demanding to know about the heavy Sheriff’s Department presence in his neighborhood and near his home. He questioned whether or not Deputy Smith trusted the people he worked with.

“I told him, ‘I trust them with my life, and I hope you trust me with yours’,” Smith said.

The barricaded man would show he did, in fact, trust Smith with his life. In less than 10 minutes, the 28-year-old peacefully surrendered to deputies.

“The most important thing in the short time you have them on the phone is showing empathy and getting them to understand that we’re concerned about them,” Smith said. “It’s about less talk, and more listening.”

The man was arrested on suspicion of child endangerment, battery and negligent discharge of a firearm. Although the suspect will face consequences for the choices he made that night, Deputy Smith helped him realize the alternative to surrender could potentially have much a graver outcome.   

“A lot of his emotional outburst was knowing that he was going to be in some trouble and possibly lose being able to see his daughter,” Smith said. “When people are in crisis, in that moment, all they see is the negative and they completely detach from everything positive in their life. We have to get them to connect to that positive.”

The Crisis Negotiation Team responds to between 50 and 60 calls each year. The team trains quarterly and also participates in a nationwide competition at the annual Texas Hostage Negotiators Conference. The Sheriff’s Department team took fourth place from among 28 departments during a competition in which they ran a complex eight-hour negotiation. To learn more about the team visit