Crisis Negotiator: The Key to Resolution Is Listening

SDSO Crisis Negotiator says the key to diffusing a crisis situation is listening and genuine communication.

A tense standoff Thursday morning where a father led police on a pursuit with his four children in the car ended with no injuries, thanks to negotiations with police over a cell phone.

A seasoned negotiator with the San Diego Sheriff's Department said the key to diffusing a crisis situation is listening and genuine communication.

Lt. Christina Bavencoff, commander for the department's Crisis Negotiation Team, said the priority is ensuring everyone goes home safely. Thursday afternoon, that was the successful outcome after police took Daniel Perez into custody and rescued his children on a San Diego freeway.

Although Bavencoff couldn't speak about the case specifically, she said negotiators are "trained listeners" who try to focus a suspect and keep them calm by giving them hope, showing them there is a future and calming the situation down, sometimes including family in the talks.

"Every situation is different and whatever brought a person, or precipitated an event, to where a person felt that they were in crisis is different for everybody," she said. "So we have to listen to find out what that is, to see how we can resolve that situation."

Bavencoff has been working with the department as a negotiator for 15 years, and you can hear it in her voice. Her soft, yet assertive approach is a valuable tool in her job.

"Every human life is so important. The children being involved could be a calming effect, or it could be more of a critical part," Bavencoff said of the effects of children being in the middle of a crisis. "We obviously want children to be safe, and we're going to do everything we can to ensure that happens."

Bavencoff said the best case scenario, negotiators are able to get the person in crisis on a more one-on-one level without children there to minimize the risks, but sometimes, like with Perez and his children, that just isn't possible.

The key, she said, is still honest and open communication, which is a seemingly lost art these days.

"We've lost humanness, I think, in a lot of our technology, but we're still human," said Bavencoff. "Each one of us needs to feel, to be heard, to be recognized, to be validated, to be understood, and I think to take the time to understand somebody and really listen is a rare, rare quality now."

Bavencoff said people believe life is just "too busy" for talking anymore, but to sit down and really listen goes a long way.

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