DES MOINES, Iowa - Ten hostage crisis teams from across the state of Iowa gathered at Principal Park in Des Moines Wednesday for hostage negotiation training.
"The idea here is to apply skills they've learned in training," said Deborah McMahon, chief facilitator of the program. "And do it in a competitive environment where they can see how good they're doing against other folks."
The program is hosted by the Iowa Department of Corrections, and includes both training and a competition where the teams work through a hypothetical hostage crisis scenario based on a real incident that occurred in Florida.
Trained law enforcement officers acted as the "bad guy" over the phone with each team just down the hall in the Principal Park Skybox. They were given background on the criminal, as well as training on how to respond to certain situations. From there, it was their choice on how to interact with the law enforcement officers on the other end of the phone. They could choose to surrender peacefully or respond violently.
Judges from several federal agencies such as the FBI sat in on each team's scenario and rated their performance. The top three teams from the competition will advance to a national competition held in Texas. Organizers say the purpose of creating a competition within the training program is to allow officers to see how their skills match up to their peers at a state- and national-level.
"What's impressive to me is that a state sparsely populated as Iowa is, that you have so many teams that could so easily compete with any of the big city teams around the United States," McMahon said.
Training programs like this one help law enforcement learn ways to resolve conflict without force, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections.
"We seek ways that don't necessarily involve the application of force," she said. "And everybody here today is very, very dedicated to using communication as a means for resolution."
This was the second year for the program in Iowa.