The innocent individual or individuals are law enforcement’s top priority during a hostage situation.
“If you find yourself in a hostage situation, know that you are our top priority,” said McMinnville Police Department Lt. Ben Cantrell. “Our actions, our responses, will be dictated by the suspect, but our goal is to get you out of that situation as quickly and as safety as possible by whatever means necessary.”
Cantrell heads the department’s Emergency Response Drill, a program offered to the community to prepare residents for active-shooter scenarios at work, church, or in public.
Tactical response standards place safety priorities for teams to follow in this order: 1) hostage, 2) bystanders, 3) law enforcement, and 4) suspects.
“I hope that doesn’t sound cold,” said Cantrell. “The priority is based primarily on a person’s ability to remove themselves from a dangerous situation and not on value of life. Bystanders can leave. If you can’t remove yourself from the situation, your safety is our top priority.”
Hostages have little or no ability to remove themselves from the dire situation they may be facing. Conversely, suspects have the most ability to remove themselves or affect the outcome of the situation through surrender.
If escape isn’t possible, hostages should remain calm, be compliant, be observant, and speak only when spoken to, Cantrell said. He added any other one-size-fits-all advice isn’t possible.
“Hostage situations are so unique that it’s very difficult to say ‘do this, not that,’” Cantrell said. “I can tell you what we do on our end, but when you’re a victim in a hostage situation, make whatever decision you feel is best for you at that particular time. If you think you can be successful in fighting against the suspect, I would recommend doing it. If you don’t think you can be successful, don’t try it. That’s a personal decision that hostages have to make.”
There’s no second guessing a hostage’s decision, Cantrell said.
“Hostage situations can vary greatly based on the motivations of the hostage-taker and the exact circumstances surrounding the incident,” said Cantrell. “You can’t go back and try to second guess someone’s action because you weren’t in that situation at the time. Some people might say ‘I would have done this’ or ‘I would have done that.’ You don’t know for sure, because you weren’t there. I’m sure the couple on Sunday did the best they could in the situation they were in. Unfortunately, it ended in tragedy. That decision was made by the suspect.”