Police turn to social media as negotiating tool

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) It's been almost one week since a man barricaded himself in a downtown Reno condo, holding a woman hostage inside while shooting at things that weren't there. Whenever there is a person barricaded in a room or house threatening harm on themselves or others, police use every tool available to bring a swift resolution to the situation. That includes turning to social media.

"Facebook, Twitter, we've used Instagram and Snapchat to communicate, typically with younger, distraught individuals who are thinking about hurting themselves or others," Officer Tim Broadway with the Reno Police Department said.

This strategy has become more useful for negotiators as social media use grows.

"Especially when you're dealing with mental health issues," Broadway said. "Some of the people that are suffering from paranoia, schizophrenia may not believe we're police officers outside the door trying to communicate with them, and by having the live platforms like Snapchat, like Facetime on some of the smart phones actually provides a really great tool with effectively negotiating with people."

According to Broadway, this strategy is used most often with suicidal teens or young adults. It allows negotiators to talk to the barricaded person on a less intimidating and intrusive level.

"t's not that intrusive with having the face-to-face contact with an armed officer in the uniform showing a position of authority," he said. "It's pretty benign when it's just through a laptop or just even a cell phone especially if we go to a neutral area where they won't see anything that might be threatening to them. Typically when we do any type of negotiations where we might have SWAT operators there or additional officers, there's quite a few people who are on scene."

Having a large authority presence can often prevent negotiators from effectively talking to suicidal people- especially young people. By using social media, negotiators are able to communicate with young adults in the way they communicate every day.

"Kind of come down to their level, and just let them open up and let them talk provide them the help they need.

Broadway says negotiators were able to contact the shooter in the downtown incident November 28. However because it is still an active investigation he would not speak on specifics. He does encourage people who have family members with a history of harming themselves or mental illness to make sure they know what those family members are doing online.

"Especailly when it comes to the youth in our community that have some type of mental health issue for parents to know their accounts," he said. "Not necessarily their passwords, but how to reach them on those platforms. All we need to know is their screen name, their user name."