MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Crisis negotiators with the FBI helped resolve an eight-hour-long hostage situation at a bank in St. Cloud without injury two weeks ago.

The work of the negotiator is critical in times of crisis. The lead FBI crisis negotiator in that case, Special Agent Christopher Langert, talked about what it takes to deescalate a situation.

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“Negotiations in our world just simply means influence through communication, so what we’re trying to do is communicate with the subject,” Langert said.

They communicate through whatever manner available: a phone, bullhorn, face to face, passing notes, even Snapchat.

Special Agent Christopher Langert (credit: CBS)

In St. Cloud, Langert was often at the bank window, holding up notes — he says all the while showing dignity and respect for the hostage taker. And he builds from there.

“And then if you can show that empathy, you can build rapport, just another word for trust, build that trust. If you can build trust, you might start to have some influence, and if you can get influence you might be able to do behavior change,” Langert said.

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In this case, a change in behavior was releasing a hostage. Langert says time helps release tension, and it allows law enforcement to gather intelligence, and to come up with a plan while the suspect is an active listener.

“So you use those skills to let them tell their story, let them vent, try to get to the root of whatever brought them there that day, and then that time deescalates them,” Langert said.

Agents walk the St. Cloud bank robbery suspect away from the scene (credit: CBS)

He says leading a negotiation can be emotionally and physically exhausting. He felt relief when the final hostage, and the subject, was out safely in St. Cloud.

“Whatever he had done hours before, this was the person that had worked with me to make this situation end the way it did,” Langert said.

He says the St. Cloud case is the first negotiation where he could physically see the hostage taker and the hostages while they were being held. He’s worked as an FBI crisis negotiator for 21 years.

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The 35-year-old suspect, Ray McNeary, faces aggravated robbery, kidnapping and second-degree assault charges, plus federal bank robbery charges.

Jennifer Mayerle