Behind the scenes of Australian hostage negotiation, Kiama Bugle, 31 March, 2024

The Australian Federal Police has more than 7000 staff, but few Australians have any idea what they do. 

In an attempt to better inform the public of at least some of their operations, for the first time the Federal Police are showcasing the work of their Negotiation Operations Team.

The work of the Team includes negotiated surrenders, suicide interventions, extortion events, sieges, barricaded offenders, mental health incidents, kidnap for ransom, public order events and even cybersecurity incidents.

There were more than a hundred such serious incidents in Australia last year.

Members of the team also operate internationally, including in Afghanistan, Somalia and other hotspots.

In the past 12 months, the AFP Negotiation Operations Team has assisted in a number of cases of Australians kidnapped overseas, with members responding to assist with the safe retrieval and return of Australian citizens as a result.

Most of these cases remain confidential. 

One case included the alleged kidnapping of an Australian pilot along with two local subcontractors near a remote telecommunications facility in the highlands of Papua New Guinea in February, where AFP Negotiation Operations were called upon to assist.

The incident made international news. French newspaper Le Monde reported that the New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape was under intense pressure to improve security in the area after the bodies of some 64 locals were found by the side of the road, victims of centuries old clan warfare. 

In February last year 2023 AFP negotiators supported the families of an Australian resident and New Zealand citizen who was rescued after being kidnapped in the Papua New Guinean jungle.

The Australian Federal Police claim the attendance of negotiators has historically cut police attendance times at incidents, lowered the need for force to be utilised and kept officers and members of the public safe from harm.

In the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), 98% of the incidents AFP negotiators attended since February 2023, were resolved without the use of any force or further escalation.

The agency reports that these events were all considered high-risk incidents and required specialist capabilities to respond.

The elite communications capability is considered world-leading in the law enforcement community, delivering training workshops for other international law enforcement agencies in Thailand, India, Philippines, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Japan and Vietnam.

AFP data indicates that the deployment of negotiators to incidents involving suicidal persons has led to the emergency being resolved within 30 minutes, on average.

AFP Sergeant and Lead Negotiator, Victor Yanes said the Negotiation Operations Team was trained to perform under high-stress situations and work in volatile and potentially dangerous environments, anywhere in the world.

“AFP negotiators operate in situations when people are in crisis and serious danger,” he said.. “We generally turn up on someone’s worst day. In that sense, AFP Negotiators are a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ capability.”

In the event of a kidnapping or incident involving an Australian citizen, whether it be in Australia or offshore, AFP negotiators manage communications with the next of kin by creating a communication cell to contain the flow of information.

“In the first instance, negotiators are called on to deploy to an incident. We then collect the facts to understand the situation, including the people involved, such as alleged offenders and victims. We then confirm who the AFP is required to communicate with through this cell,” Sergeant Yanes said.

“Negotiators manage the communication flow, the messages being conveyed, all with the aim of ensuring that the people involved are safe and protected. We know when we wake up every day that we could potentially save someone’s life.”

AFP negotiators are selected during a specialised training course involving multiple levels of advancement, each requiring various degrees of skill.

Team members undergo continuous training ensuring they can adequately and strategically respond to emergencies.

“AFP Negotiators come from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances, with varying professional experiences and expertise to provide a well-rounded capability,” Sergeant Yanes said.

“Having a diverse team provides us with more strategic options and opportunities to ensure we are equipped to tackle any situation.”

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