INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn. (WCCO) — The ATF has five Special Response Teams (SRTs) assigned to cities across the country. Those teams whose members volunteer for the special assignments are on call at a moment’s notice.
They are the agents sent in to deal with hostages and armed suspects who are refusing to surrender peacefully.
In an unused warehouse in Dakota County, the ATF’s agents are being trained for the next big crisis. In the training scenario, an armed man holds his girlfriend hostage and refuses to surrender. He grows more and more agitated by the minute.
“Yes, I’m upset! You’re trying to kill me! Leave my property,” the agent playing the role of the suspect yelled.
It’s all part of a two-week simulation school, training the next class of hostage negotiators.
“It’s just getting to that point where we can calm them down enough to make rational decisions. It gives them that olive branch that they know life isn’t over,” ATF special operations program director Chris Hoffman said. “We’re giving them an excuse or a reason to want to come out and live.”
The special response teams started in 1996 following recommendations stemming from the 1993 Waco disaster, where four ATF agents who were part of group of law enforcement serving arrest warrants were killed in a shootout.
The siege resulted in a 51-day standoff with the ATF and FBI. It finally ended when leader David Koresh and his followers set fire to their compound, resulting in the deaths of Koresh and 81 Branch Davidians, including women and children.
Minneapolis Police Sgt. Joshua Young was among those learning the art of active listening in Inver Grove Heights.
“When I do my job and negotiate successfully, people don’t get hurt,” he said.
Federal agents and officers like Young know their training over the two weeks of schooling are only mock situations meant to simulate real-life scenarios, but they’ll leave with the skills and confidence needed to negotiate real danger out of future standoffs.
At the completion of training on Friday, the special response teams will have a full complement of 46 crisis negotiators across the country.