Resolving hostage situations take time, says ex-cop
There are a few reasons why people cannot rush the resolution of a hostage situation, where the preservation of lives is the top priority.
Retired Superintendent of the Singapore Police Force Lee Swee Thin said negotiations help the police to understand the hostage taker's frame of mind and stall for time to put safety measures around the area.
He told The New Paper yesterday: "The counsellor will first do the assessment and observations to determine whether the victim is in danger.
"The negotiators also play for time. For example, the Singapore Civil Defence Force will prepare safety life air pack and secure ropes while talking."
Asked about the Sembawang incident, Mr Joseph Tan, 49, who served in the police force from 1985 to 1992, said: "As far as I understand, the man wants the negotiation. The boy was held to secure his way out."
Psychiatrists said there are many reasons why people take hostages.
Dr Thomas Lee, a psychiatrist from Resilienz Clinic, said factors include a history of mental disorders or substance abuse, age and gender.
A consultant psychiatrist at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, Dr Brian Yeo, listed money, terrorism and marital issues as reasons.
Commenting on yesterday's case, he said: "This case is probably not planned. But when people get angry and do things for revenge, their judgment is clouded and we don't know what they can do."
Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, has seen an increase in the number of couples with conflict issues seeking help.
He said: "There have always been couples with conflict issues, but people are more likely to get help now because there are many types of services for them to choose from.
"Singapore is a 'compact' society and people are always stressed out because there is a lot of pressure within our society. This leads to conflicts between couples."
Despite this, Dr Lee said most couples are able to resolve their conflicts without resorting to such situations or acts of violence.
Stand-off one of longest in negotiation unit's history
Yesterday's incident in Sembawang, which lasted 17 hours, is believed to be one of the longest stand-offs in which the police's Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU) has been involved.
Formed in 1974 after the Laju ferry hostage incident, the CNU - formerly known as the Singapore Police Force Negotiation Team - comes under the Special Operations Command.
Comprising uniformed officers and psychologists, the team is trained to handle cases around the clock involving hostages, barricaded subjects, civil disobedience and suicide attempts.
In May, The New Paper reported that there were 23 such incidents in the first four months of this year.
In an interview with TNP then, CNU deputy team leader Marilyn Tan said CNU officers have to stay on their toes as every negotiation situation is different.
"Each situation is dynamic and complicated by the actual terrain. There is no standardised solution or approach to negotiation," she said.
The CNU team has to safeguard not only the subject, but also themselves. This requires them to evaluate every detail on the ground, plan and work together to execute the best negotiation tactic.
On March 31, the CNU dealt with an overnight stand-off that lasted 14 hours when a 48-year-old man wielding a chopper at a flat in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8 had threatened to burn down his unit. Also in the flat was his 70-year-old mother.
The police entered the flat by force and detained him. No one was hurt.
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