KCSO Crisis Negotiation Team, Part II

Part I explored the evolution of the Crisis Negotiation Team (CNT). Part II brings the story of how a mental health professional (MHP) became an official member of the team after years of volunteering.

Part II: A mental health professional’s perspective

“There was a suicidal gentleman on an overpass, just leaning and staring at the pavement below,” said mental health professional Susie Kroll. “We had to stop traffic for five or six hours.” The first 90 minutes were like talking to a wall, she added, but negotiators were able to convince him to get off the bridge and she was then able to talk to him one-on-one.

The man was new to Washington, estranged from his children, homeless, and dealing with substance abuse. With Kroll’s support, he was able to get into treatment after the incident instead of just being sent to a hospital and released.

“He called three months later to thank the team and the negotiator,” she said. He was clean and sober, and moving into transitional housing.

Susie Kroll, Mental Health Professional

“I first met Susie at a crisis negotiation training put on by the police academy,” said Master Police Officer (MPO) George Ireland. Showing a strong interest in the CNT work, Kroll was invited to “hang out with the team” when she was available. “She was wholeheartedly into what we were doing” Ireland added, and she became an incredible volunteer.

Kroll has a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, and can assess, diagnose, and design therapy and treatment. Her father was a hostage negotiator and Special Agent for Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), so you might say this line of work is in her blood. She was attending the Crisis Systems Management training school on her own when she and MPO Ireland started talking about the cross-section between psychology and crisis negotiation.

She began going to training callouts just to observe, and then after completing her schooling got asked to her first real callout. She continued to do this as a volunteer for about five years, sometimes logging 500 hours in a year.

According to Sgt. Mulligan, when he took over CNT in 2019, he saw how much Susie was volunteering and he spent the next 18 months working to get her paid for her time.

“Having a mental health professional on a crisis is critical,” he said. “It’s great she was willing to volunteer but we needed to be doing the right thing and pay for all her assistance.”

In a crisis, command might ask for Kroll’s guidance on how to intervene based on a person’s mental health issues and conditions. She gives her perspective so they can make an informed decision on how to proceed based on her expertise and police legalities.

“Kroll brings an expertise and connections in getting background information to help us create a negotiation strategy,” Sgt. Mulligan said. “She can put this person into context and help guide how we negotiate, to help vet what we’re seeing and thinking in a situation.”

Kroll is not a sworn deputy, so she does not make tactical decisions. But the fact that she has been through the same training as the negotiators allows her to provide valuable input. At the scene, she can listen in on a conversation and give feedback that helps the CNT and TAC 30 teams make strategic decisions.

Creating a ‘hook’

Sgt. Speight shared about an event in Duvall where a person was having a mental episode. The local police had been called and found him banging on the door of a house with intent to harm his elderly parents inside. When the local police arrived, he ran off into the bushes with a gun.

MHP Kroll, Sgt. Mulligan, and Sgt. Ireland discuss tactics

TAC 30 arrived on site and the man began firing on the armored car which had been emptied of personnel. When Kroll got on the scene, she was able to speak the man’s father after he had been safely evacuated from the house, and he told her about the man’s Native American background, which she shared with the negotiator, Sgt. Nate Obregon. The team flew a communication drone overhead and Sgt. Obregon was able to appeal to the man’s sense of heritage and pride and being a warrior with honor. This breakthrough is what eventually got him to surrender.

“Our crisis team is made up of really good negotiators,” Sgt. Speight said, “but that hook Susie came up with, none of us would’ve thought about that and they were magic words that got the man to surrender and avoid any harm.”

According to Kroll, someone surrendering is not the end of the story. She will work with the victims, families, survivors, and the person in crisis following up to make sure they have services and resources available. She also pays attention to her team, especially during a heavy negotiation.

“I’ll watch for signs of trauma and stress, changes in normal behavior,” Kroll said. “I’ll suggest team leaders check in to see if someone needs a referral to services. We all look out for each other, but I try to make those connections, monitor the mental health of our team – and they do the same for me. We’re like a family in that way.”

Stay tuned for Part III: An incredible partnership