HAMMOND | Hostage negotiators from the Hammond Police Department are now manning a hotline to help callers navigate real-life crisis situations as part of their monthly training.
The department launched the new training Thursday in partnership with Crisis Center, Inc., in Gary. The department is working with the center's crisis contact program to field calls ranging from suicidal individuals to ones needing community resource information.
Officers on the department’s Hostage Crisis Negotiations Team are certified through the FBI Academy and participate in simulated training regularly. But the new partnership is key because it offers real world experience, said Hammond Police Sgt. Steve Kellogg, who leads the team’s training.
“When you know that it is a real person you are talking to and the crisis you are dealing with is real to this person and it's not something they are reading off the script, it makes it so much more important,” Kellogg said.
Kellogg contacted the center two years ago for officers to man the hotline over the holidays, when he said callers often feel stress. This year he approached the center to integrate the hotline into the team’s monthly training.
“All the team members at the time walked out of there saying that’s some of the best training we’ve ever had,” Kellogg said. “We had numerous suicidal subjects … and not just suicidal but numerous subjects that are in need of help. They are off of medication and need some guidance along the way. We can help provide community resources to them.”
Calls into the hotline come from Lake and Porter counties, but can also come from across Indiana and other states as well, according to Willie Perry, coordinator of the crisis intervention line.
The Hammond Police Department is the first local law enforcement agency the department has worked with, but Perry hopes other departments are interested.
“It parallels what we do and what they do,” Perry said. “They’re crisis intervention. We’re crisis intervention.”
Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller, who looked in on the training Thursday, said when the team is called out to a scene, the situation has usually hit rock bottom where an individual has a gun or has taken a hostage.
“It’s hard to train for that,” Miller said. “(The hotline) gives them the closest real time practice that they can get.”