Dane County negotiators undergo extensive training

Negotiators complete 40-hour FBI basic training

Hostage negotiators with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office go through regular training with the goal of safely stopping situations like the one the unfolded at a house in McFarland in July 2010.

Negotiators tried persuading Scott Stevens to come outside after an hours-long standoff with Dane County sheriff’s deputies.

A shootout followed after authorities broke a window to put a camera inside and check on Stevens. He died from gunshot wounds.

It’s an outcome negotiators try to avoid with extensive, FBI-level training.

Their colleagues said negotiators often go unnoticed, left to save lives holed up inside a command station rather than guns drawn at the scene. And while their communication skills might be key, it’s how they listen that one veteran negotiator said will solve problems safely.

With a cautionary tone, Detective Steve Wegner carefully talked down Andrew in a training exercise Wednesday. Andrew just lost his job, is in an economic pinch and was drinking heavily.

Wegner and eight others make up a negotiating team that Lt. Alicia Rauch oversees.

“It could be no call for several months or we could have several calls in one-month timeframe; it really varies,” Rauch said.

The Dane County group gets regular training updates, along with the 40-hour FBI basic training.

“A big part of being a negotiator is not so much the talking, but listening — listening to what they’re saying, listening to what there crisis is; it’s their moment and we’re here to talk them through that,” Rauch said.

In the McFarland standoff, Stevens’ daughter wanted to help during negotiations. WISC-TV interviewed her in 2010.

Summer Sprees said, “I said, ‘I’d really like to talk to my dad. If he could hear my voice or something, maybe it would help calm the situation or something.’ The officer wouldn’t let me.”

Authorities said including family can have the opposite effect.

“Getting people to come from an irrational state to a rational state is probably the most challenging part of the training,” Rauch said.

It’s also the part people don’t see. Rather, the armed agents get the attention, Rauch said. But negotiators said all the officers work together to save lives.

“I’m honored to be a part of the team and see some of these situations come to a peaceful resolution, which is our ultimate goal,” Rauch said.

After every situation, the negotiating team debriefs together and talks about issues that may have come up. If it’s especially traumatic, it’s best for the debriefing is done by an outside trained professional within 48 hours of the event.  

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