Crisis team eases tense events

When law enforcement has to deal with a person who has mental distress or is threatening to harm themselves, a group of specially trained officers is available to help calm the situation and bring it to a safe resolution.

These officers are part of an Iowa State Patrol group known as the Crisis Response Team.

Throughout the state, there are four teams each comprised of five people.

One of those 20 Crisis Response Team members is local Post 7 Trooper Matt Eimers, who has been a trained crisis negotiator for the past four years.

“When there are barricaded subjects in houses, people who have taken hostages, suicidal subjects or someone who won’t come out of their home, either myself or one of the team members is called out,” Eimers said. “We try to get a safe resolution so that force doesn’t have to be used.”

The main goal of the Crisis Response Team is to keep both the person and law enforcement safe from harm.

“We try to make contact with them with whatever means necessary so we can negotiate a peaceful surrender,” Eimers said.

Eimers got involved with the program because of an interest in helping people in stressful situations.

“I’ve always been interested in talking with people who are in crisis situations,” he said. “It’s something that comes naturally for me.”

Because of where Post 7 is located, Eimers actually does negotiation work with two of the four teams in Iowa.

“I can go clear toward the western part of the state and clear up north as well,” he said.

As a crisis negotiator, Eimers is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and also does training on a regular basis.

“We go through three levels of training and continue to do yearly training,” he said. “We train with tactical teams around the state and with the FBI crisis negotiation teams.”

That includes working with the Fort Dodge and Webster County Special Emergency Response Team.

Sgt. Richard Pierce, the crisis negotiation program coordinator for the Iowa State Patrol, said the program has made a name for itself over the past four years.

“We’ve gone to a team approach when it comes to negotiations,” he said. “This includes a team leader, primary negotiator, secondary negotiator and a person who works with intelligence.”

In November, the Crisis Response Team even traveled to San Antonio, Tex., to give a presentation at a national conference for crisis negotiators.

“We were the featured presentation down there,” Pierce said. “We’ve become quite a leader throughout the Midwest over the past few years.”

As of Wednesday, the team had been asked to respond to 85 different emergencies statewide.

Of the 58 people the team has made contact with, all of them have survived.

“We’ve had several incidents involving multiple or single hostages, many armed and barricaded subjects, and some who were suicidal,” Pierce said. “So far we’ve been very, very successful.”

He added that it’s important to keep up with training when it comes to dealing with a subject who might want to cause harm.

“Knowing when to speak and when not to speak and what to say and how to say it is very important,” he said. “Words are like bullets. Once you send that word down the lane you can’t call it back. Sometimes the next words out of your mouth can be a matter of life and death.”

Lt. Kelly Hindman, district commander for Post 7, said the crisis negotiators can be called on at any time to respond to any emergency.

“They’re not confined by district lines,” he said. “We can call whoever is closest to the emergency.”

The team’s success rate helps lead to satisfying endings for both subjects involved and law enforcement.

“We prefer to negotiate a resolution to the problem where nobody gets hurt,” Hindman said. “It’s better to achieve that through dialogue instead of throwing flash bangs or smoke grenades and kicking in people’s doors. It’s safer for everybody.”

Eimers added the crisis negotiation team couldn’t be successful without the work with other law enforcement agencies.

“We get called out by these other agencies and have great cooperation by working and training with them,” he said. “That’s what has made us a success.”