Police Life: The Experts podcast, Episode 1: The negotiators transcript

Police negotiators are routinely portrayed in movies as only communicating from a distance with a megaphone. But for the negotiators in Victoria Police’s Critical Incident Response Team, when they’re dealing with sieges, hostage incidents, suicide interventions and more, they always try to operate face-to-face.

Listen to this episode and other episodes of Victoria Police's official podcast, Police Life: The Experts.

Transcript of Police Life: The Experts podcast, Episode1: The negotiators

Voiceover: You’re listening to Police Life: The Experts, a Victoria Police podcast shining a light on our people and their extraordinary skills.

Voiceover: This podcast episode contains references to suicide, violence and mental health issues. 

It’s not recommended for children. If you feel you need assistance after listening, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. If life is in danger, call Triple Zero (000).

[Suspenseful music in background]

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: Sometimes we take a bunch of steps forward and then we take a step back and that’s okay. 

Don’t think you’ve lost control, and don’t think you’ve let us down or the situation is deteriorating. It’s not. Okay? 

It’s only deteriorating if you start to hurt yourself and then they have to get involved. Nobody wants that at all.   

Voiceover: It’s the mission of every police organisation around the world to move someone in danger to themselves or others from “no” to “yes” without the use of force and to bring everyone home safely.

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: Hold the knife if you feel you need to. That’s fine but I’m telling you, you don’t need it.

Voiceover: This is Victoria Police’s negotiator cell at work. A group of 18 officers within the Critical Incident Response Team that covers the entire state. If you’re in crisis, it’s their voices you might hear. 

Negotiators become involved when a job goes beyond the capabilities of general duties police. There might be a siege or a stand-off, there might be a weapon involved, or threats of violence and self-harm. 

These negotiations are rarely what you see in the movies ­­- conducted from a distance with a megaphone. Rather, Victoria Police’s negotiators work face-to-face in the hot zone, just a couple of metres from the subject. 

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: You’re not a bad person. You are not a criminal. I don’t think you ever will be. 

My vision of who you are and what you’re going to be – I think you will surprise yourself. In a good way.

Voiceover: The negotiator cell is made up of two sergeants and 16 leading senior constables and senior constables. 

They are clearly police with all their equipment, but they deliberately dress in plain, neutral clothes to distinguish them as being different. 

They attend more than 300 jobs a year and support police in hundreds more critical situations. Most of these, the public never hears about. For this rare glimpse into their workplace, we’ve spoken to a long-time negotiator who has helped to create this world-class team in Victoria.

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: My name is Lee Wolahan I'm a leading senior constable. 

I’ve been with Victoria Police for 21 years. I have been with the Critical Incident Response Team for the last 13 years and have been a negotiator for the greater part of the last decade and a bit. 

I am a negotiator first. It's part of my identity now, it's part of who I am. And if you don't practice it, it goes away because it's a perishable skill.

Voiceover: And another member at the beginning of her negotiating career.

Audio of Senior Constable Matilda Gledhill: So, my name's Matilda Gledhill. I'm a senior constable, a negotiator at the Critical Incident Response Team. 

Voiceover: Matilda is one of three female negotiators at Victoria Police operating in a team where a diversity of life experiences and approaches is vital.

Audio of Senior Constable Matilda Gledhill:  An opportunity presented itself for me to do a sort of trial ride-along program with the sergeant who runs the neg cell. 

I very much wanted to be a negotiator. It was always the goal for me and I think he saw something in me that that had potential to do the role. 

Voiceover: The investment in negotiating skills reflects the value of influence in resolving everyday policing challenges.   

Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: All police officers should be able to be a negotiator. We negotiate getting someone into the back of the div van. 

We negotiate getting a drunk to pack up his stuff and go home. We calm down a chaotic situation at a violent domestic. 

Unfortunately, that doesn't always transfer into what we actually do as professional negotiators. 

It's very different to police work. It has the same DNA. 

It has a lot of similarities, but it's incredibly strategic and there's a lot of psychology involved, trying to get someone who's in a crisis point to get their brain back online to the point that they can actually start making better decisions. 

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: I don’t want to take you anywhere other than just to get your depot and then come straight home. I’m not your enemy.

Voiceover: As part of the Critical Incident Response Team, Victoria Police’s negotiators already have a front-row seat to some of the state’s most high-pressure policing jobs including sieges, the arrest of violent or armed offenders, counter-terrorism response and suicide intervention, but the negotiators’ work is even more specialised. 

The best way to understand what they do is to hear Lee Wolahan tell the story of a most unusual shift in Melbourne. Not one, but two negotiations underway simultaneously. 

[Suspenseful music in background]

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan:  Let me take you back to the actual night itself. It was Saturday night. It was busy. 

Footy was on. Soccer was on at the same time. It was a lot of people. 

The Bolte Bridge is one of the main thoroughfares into the city and it's incredibly busy. 

We pulled up there knowing that a man was on the bridge. We didn't know his name, we didn’t know anything about him, but we knew that he was threatening to commit suicide and he wasn't talking to police. 

The traffic was at almost a standstill. There was a small 22-seater bus filled with drunken young men going to a bucks’ party and they were stopped right next to this guy and they were all yelling for him to jump. 

Reluctantly, I had to say to the police forward commander, “You need to shut this bridge down. This person is overstimulated. They can't focus on making the right call. And we don't even know his name”. 

We never feel like we have all the pieces of the puzzle and we never do get all the information, even afterwards when we debrief people. 

He was in incredibly precarious position. He was leaning on the downward slope of the Bolte Bridge, which is slippery late in the evening. 

There was no barriers at that stage, and he had a small thin leather belt tied around a light fixture, and he was leaning all the way out with his toes and his full body extended out over the edge, which is about, I would guess, about at least a hundred feet down into water. 

You're at severe risk of serious injury, if not death, at that height.

And that told me two things. 

Number one, he had no idea the danger he was in, or he didn't care. 

And number two, it told me that he was massively overstimulated because he had nowhere else to go except as far out as he could possibly go. So that's why I needed to reduce stimulus, get that bridge shut down, and show him that, once I did that, I was giving him something. 

So when I gave him something, which was to shut down the bridge and push all those police officers back, then he reached up hand by hand and he started to pull himself back just a little bit. 

He was still on the edge, he was still in incredible danger, but he gave me something. He gave me some tiny concession. 

And one of the critical things that we have to do when someone gives us something is to thank them because we want to reinforce that behaviour.

 You want to ignore or punish the bad, but you definitely want to reward and encourage the good. And that's what I did. 

I thanked him for his time. I apologised for the overstimulation. I apologised for all the lights and I do that at every single job. Saying sorry doesn't cost anything. It's free. 

I'm feeling like I have opportunity. And if someone says yes, and I say yes metaphorically, if he does something for me, he'll continue to do so as long as I maintain my plan, which is to reinforce the good. 

So I'm feeling confident and I'm feeling that I can actually make some progress here. I've got something to work with. 

Over the next 20 minutes, I started to dig down into what had actually brought him here tonight. 

He was not giving me much. He was very angry. He was hostile, constantly insisting that I move back, which is control. He wants to control the situation. 

I was approximately five or six metres away from him at the time. 

He was afraid I was going to take his decisions away. And that's important for us to communicate that in a way that they trust us. 

Trust is one of the biggest currencies that we work with. If people don't trust us, there's no way that they're going to comply. 

And we always talk consistently about what's going to happen because people want information. He wants to know what's going to happen to him. He wants to know what I know. 

And so he started dripping out tiny, what we call, “hooks” about something that had happened earlier in the evening. 

And I had no idea what that was, but it was something bad. The more I dug into it, the more he realised that I didn't know what he was talking about, so he started to feel confident. 

So I moved on. I wanted to steer the conversation in an area that starts to make progress and gain momentum. 

When you're looking at what someone wants, remember, not what they need but what they want - what he wants is for tomorrow to not happen. 

To be absolved of all responsibility. There could be a hundred different things, but in reality, what he wants is to control what happens to him, even if that means the ultimate of death. 

I want to create dependency. They have leverage. I want to let them know that that leverage isn't needed. 

You don't need to be standing on a ledge. You need me. 

So, one of the things that I spoke about him was “I don't think you're going to jump, but I think you're going to fall. Then you will probably shatter your ankles, knees, hips, eye sockets, all sorts of horrendous injuries. But you are a very real shot of not dying here”. 

And I’ve used that before, and I’ve used that to great effect. Because you're telling that person that your leverage is ineffective and your leverage is not going to get you the outcome you want in this moment, to get them to a point that the outcome they want is different – “I want to survive. I want to live to tomorrow. I’m happy to talk to police.”

That sort of thing. So I was trying to chip away at his leverage because it had served me well in the past. And I made a mistake. 

He asked me for something. He sat up on the edge of the bridge. Swung his legs towards me, and he said, “What's your partner writing?” 

My partner had his book out and he was writing notes, which he should do. And then he said, “Give me that, give me the book”. 

And you've got to run every demand through a filter. Are they going to write a suicide note? 

Are they going to take my notes of the last year and throw it off the bridge to prove a point? So we said, “No, you're not having it”. 

And then he started counting down from 10. 

Today, I would not give my daybook over. Back then, we gave it over because we thought, “What if this is the catalyst?” 

And it turns out that’s not a correct way of thinking, because he makes his own decisions and we're there to help him. 

And if he jumps because we didn't give him our daybook, well, that's on him. It's not on us. 

A younger version of me didn't think that way and thought, “I don't want to be answering questions from the coroner as to why my 50-cent daybook was worth more than a human life”. So, we gave the daybook over and he starts writing in it and we start to think, “Oh dear, we've made a mistake. He's writing a suicide note”. 

From that from that moment, he was up and about. His eyes were jittery. We thought we were near the surrender phase because when someone's about to surrender, they're giving up their control. 

And that's the moment we were at, I thought now. And he said, and I'll never forget it, he goes, “So if I jump off here, I'm not going to die?” 

And I said, “I don't think you will. You might not”. And he said, “Okay”. And then he said, “Well, now you're going to have to kill me”. 

And he pulled a knife out of his right pocket. It was about nine-centimetre blade. It was sharp on both sides. And then he started slowly walking towards us.

Earlier on in the piece, we pushed all the police back to reduce stimulus, and now we didn't have any backup. 

So we backed up, we backed up and he started advancing on us. And then you start thinking about – everything slows down. 

I didn’t realise that was going to happen, but it does. And what that is, is cortisol is flooding your brain and it's starting to shut down all nonessential systems, which can be really bad for a police officer. 

So I started to control my breathing, started to control my self-talk, started to remember my training, because you don't rise to the occasion when you're under a stressful situation, you actually fall to the nearest and best training you have. 

I pulled out my firearm, I pointed it at him. I gave him the police challenge, “Police. Don't move. Drop the knife”. My partner had his taser out and he's a pretty good shot. 

He put the knife back into his pocket and then he went back to the bridge. We told him, “That's not okay. We are not going to solve your problems for you. We are here to make sure you get the help you need”. 

As I was talking to him a moment later and he had calmed down somewhat, I felt that familiar tap in the small of my back, which is “I've got information for you that you need to know right now”. 

So, I said, “Excuse me”, and I said his name, “I need to talk to my partner”. 

And he said, “I don't give a shit”. So, we've asked permission, we've given him control. 

We push back and he said, my partner Ben – a very, very competent police officer – said, “Mate, I just found out that he has stabbed his partner, thrown her out of a moving vehicle. 

She's alive, but she's not in a good way”. And so now my brain kicks into overdrive. We've got a potential murderer. How's that going to affect his motivation? How’s that going to affect the things that he wants?

Someone standing on a bridge, their leverage is that they might jump. 

If someone has a knife, their leverage is that they might come and stab you or try and get you to shoot them. 

So then what you do is you try not to get bogged down in the details of the crime. We don't try and solve people's problems. It seems counterproductive to say that. 

Shouldn't we stand there and tell someone it's going to be okay? No, you actually need to understand what is going on in their brain and their brain chemistry.  

And so essentially the brain has gone offline. I don't need to sell him the idea of prison, that it's going to be okay. 

I actually need to get him talking about something other than his pain, something other than his problems, because he's an adult and he has a functioning brain that isn't functioning in this moment. 

Get that person out of the pit. We call it the pit. They're standing in a pit. They actually need us to realise the situation that they found them in. 

Start there. Talk about that sort of thing. Their focus will broaden, the brain will come online and they'll start to solve their own problems. 

I’ll never forget, it was about 10 o’clock at night. You could see the city. It was beautiful. It was a clear night. The Bolte Bridge lights up amazingly. 

We had Water Police down in the water. I could see them there. We had Search and Rescue starting to arrive because we need protection too. 

And we needed tethers because it's a human reaction that if someone is sliding off a bridge that you go and grab them to try and save a life. 

And if you were to ask me 10 years ago if I would grab someone, the answer would be yes. 

If you asked me today, “Would you have?”, the answer is no. I have two children, I have a partner. 

I have a bunch of police officers that rely on me and that I rely on. I'm never going to make a decision for all those people because they're going to rush to protect me and then put themselves in harm's way. 

You grab someone who's not willing and you've got a fight on your hands, 100 storeys up on a cold, wet night and it's not going to be a good result for anybody.

So, we've been out at the Bolte Bridge now for the greater part of three hours. It's getting cold. 

I don't know if your listeners are aware, but the bridge starts to wobble when the wind picks up. It's meant to do that. 

Still a disconcerting feeling when you're standing there talking to a man who has a knife and is hanging off the edge of a bridge calling you names, and the bridge starts moving. 

And then a car moved up on the opposite side of the bridge inbound on the Bolte Bridge. A small sedan. Shouldn't have happened because the bridge was fully blocked off. That’s what I asked. 

It pulls up slowly and then the door opens up and a young female with light brown hair gets out. And I know the look - head down, dejected but driven. 

And I went, “This can't be happening. How did she get through the blockade”, for want of a better term? And, “Am I being tricked here? Is this some sort of prank? Because I got my hands full here. I'm pretty overloaded”.

As it turned out, young girl in a situation where she was depressed, thought that “This is my opportunity”. And so she went up because she knew that the police were busy. 

And so, she got out of her car and she stepped up onto the ledge and she looked down towards the water below. 

We then got a radio communication from the police forward commander who asked if one of us could jump across to the other side and negotiate her down. 

There's a gap, or there was a gap at the time, between the Bolte Bridge at the time that was about two metres. 

Now I could stand up now and jump two metres, not a problem, but I am not jumping two metres when there's a hundred feet down to my untimely demise. 

Sometimes being a good negotiator is understanding when to say no. And we were already stretched pretty thin. 

So I said, “No, we can't do that. We want to help as much as we can. But you need other negotiators”. 

So someone's got to be woken up. So they rang two other negotiators who came in as quickly as they could and they were on the way. 

And that's a really hard position to be in where we're seeing someone who's on a bridge and there's no one to talk to her and we can't do it because we're thoroughly engaged with what we are doing. 

So I asked for a police officer to come up and at least have a go until our trained negotiators can get there. And that's what happened. 

She was a young, successful girl. Pressures of university was too much. And she felt that, in that exact moment where she'd been drinking, that she had no other option. 

But from what I understand she's happy and has kids now. And that gives me a lot of comfort because it was my partners, my friends, who went up there and talked her down, which was a good result.

The sticking point with our young man on the bridge was that he wanted a verbal guarantee from the girl that he'd stabbed, that she wasn't going to press charges against him. 

Now, there are some people who would think, “Say anything, get her on the phone”. It's not fair on her. It's not ethical to force her in a situation where she feels that she has to almost, even if it's fake, forgive the person who has tried to kill her. 

So, part of being a negotiator is learning when to say “no”, I said, “I'm not asking for that. The answer is no, you cannot do that”. That is manipulation. It's coercion, and that's interfering with what is now a criminal process. 

You need to be consistent. You need to have things that you're willing to commit to and things that you're not willing to commit to. 

And I'm not willing to commit to having the woman he stabbed, who's probably in hospital getting treated, get on the phone and tell him, “It's okay. Everything's going to be all right”. 

Because it's not. That's not truthful. And he knows that. 

So, when I said, “No, I'm not going to let that happen and you know why”, he moved straight on. 

He said, “Okay, fair enough”. And that's trust building. He's building trust with me because I'm not lying to him. I'm not going to say whatever it takes to get him off that bridge.

The most dangerous time is usually the surrender phase. So I want to do that as slowly as possible and I want to normalise them stepping off and giving up their leverage. Because once they give up their leverage, they need to be rewarded for that in a big way. 

[Suspenseful music] 

So he did that. He gave us the knife. He put it on top of my daybook and he handed me the daybook and I took it off him and I patted him on the shoulder. 

Physical contact is important. I said, “You're doing the right thing, mate, good job”. 

I took the knife. 

I put it down, I was wearing gloves, I'm conscious of that it's a now a crime exhibit. 

And then I quickly flicked down to what he was writing in my daybook. 

And I'll never forget what he wrote - "It's cold, it's wet, I'm in a lot of trouble and I've got to sit here listening to this fuckwit [laughs] bang on and on and I'm sick of listening to him talk”. 

So I don't know whether we got him down by attrition or he just got bored. But oftentimes, I take solace in the fact that we followed the process and the process is good. 

Once someone has given up their leverage, they are at risk of going back over the ledge. 

And that's when police often like to go hands-on and we do the opposite. We let that person feel normal in a very abnormal situation. 

So I let them walk around a little bit, let them have a little bit of freedom. I talk about the football. 

I talk about how strange and wild it is what happened on the other side of the bridge. And what that does is it normalises the situation where he feels comfortable. “We’re in this together. It’s you and I.” 

Because he has now swapped his leverage for me. 

He doesn't need the bridge. He doesn't need the knife. He needs me. And that is a very powerful relationship. 

And oftentimes I've seen people go away in the back of a div van or the back of an ambulance, and they'll shout out my name, in a good way – “I need you”. And it means I've done my job correctly. 

But you have to let them go. On to the next phase of their life.  

He was charged and convicted with the offences. And from all accounts, she recovered fully and I hope has a better partner in her life. 

Voiceover: Victoria Police’s Critical Incident Response Team is home to about 150 tactical police members, including the 18 negotiators. Norway Police Service is the only other force in the world where negotiators must also be qualified as tactical police.

Over the past two years, Matilda Gledhill has been highly trained in negotiation. 

She went through a selection process with an emphasis on psychological profiling, a full-time four-week training course that ramps up in pressure and intensity until they carry out simulated negotiations lasting more than eight hours. 

These skills have become second nature to Matilda. However, as a woman, she brings her own intuition and personality to the job.   

Audio of Senior Constable Matilda Gledhill: It's hugely important. It should be reflective of the community we serve, a cross-section of genders and people with different life experiences. 

Me as a female, I think that, just naturally my go to, and it's a natural thing anyway I don't have to think about it necessarily, but I come in with a softer, probably more compassionate approach as the first goal to try and defuse a situation that is currently chaotic. 

And I think that can have a really nice effect on people and most of the time it tends to work out. 

So, for example, I was talking to a man who was in mental crisis. He was in his house. 

He had weapons he had threatened the local members with, I think they were like samurai swords, and said, “If you get any closer, I'm going to use them”. 

So clearly when someone says something like that, it's a fear response because they feel as though they're being encroached upon and that they're going to do anything they can to defend themselves or to protect that safe space that they're in. 

He had some family problems that had led up to that. He wasn't taking his medication. His family were very concerned for him, but he deemed that as a betrayal of trust and that they'd sort of dobbed him in. So, there were a few things at play that were obviously ailing him. 

But at the end of the day, the goal was to get him out of the house peacefully where no one was hurt so that he could be taken to hospital, to get the ball rolling on getting him in a bit of a better place. 

So I just approached that with an apology that he felt as though he had been wronged by his family and that they had disobeyed his trust. And then the flow on of that, that then law enforcement come in and tell him what he has to do that is the best thing for him when he's not currently feeling that way. 

So you come in with an apology and catering to his problem, his plight. 

And he said – sometimes people pick it up and it can be a bad thing, but often it's a positive thing – he sort of said something to the effect of, “Oh, I see why they put you in, with your calm, lovely voice”, or something like that, which I just sort of try and emphasise and say, “I'm happy that I'm a positive influence on you right now and I hope that means we can work together to get you into a slightly better position than you are right now". 

I don't quite know how to quantify it in words in terms of the approach, but it's just a more gentle way to go about it, I suppose. 

I am open and love to hear all different perspectives and teachings. Lee's obviously a wealth of knowledge, both practically and in a theoretical sense. 

I probably have learnt the most and taken in the most from my colleagues and how they operate and things that they do that I think are great or things that I see that I'm like, “I don't think I could pull that off”. 

For example, you know, going back to the gender thing, the guys have this wonderful way of saying, “mate”. It's lovely, it sounds so good and so natural and so conversational, but I can't say it. 

I just I don't know how it would sound externally, but for me calling a man in crisis, “mate”, it doesn't gel. 

Voiceover: Matilda was in television production before joining Victoria Police. She had studied communications at university, with literature and philosophy. She’s a voracious reader of the classics from Melville to Shakespeare.

Audio of Senior Constable Matilda Gledhill: I am probably a little bit different to the rest of my cohort in the way that I think and whether it's through the things that I've learnt or what I've enjoyed learning and particularly philosophy and literature through my studies. 

I lean a little bit differently with my belief systems and my values. And in all honesty, I just try and be myself in everything I do, particularly in the jobs that I do. 

I try not to overthink things from a theoretical point of view. I try and always approach them just as if I'm having a conversation with anyone and anywhere.

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: What Matilda brings is her brain and her personality, amongst many other things. But those are the two things that I cherish. 

She's incredibly smart, she's very highly motivated, and she is confident of who she is and what she wants to achieve. 

We had a job where Matilda was in the tactical team and I was talking to a young girl, self-harm marks down her wrist, who was hanging off a bridge in a very precarious position over Flinders Street. Hundreds of people watching. I looked at Matilda. 

Audio of Senior Constable Matilda Gledhill: I thought, you know, I can't change my uniform. I can't change that I'm in the blues, but I can probably defuse some of the visual feedback that she's getting from me by taking this stuff off, because I'm not going to need it in this scenario. 

I certainly shouldn't. And I've got people around me that I can rely on to provide that tactical support if required. So essentially, I just took my vest off and I was just in my undershirt and I might have still had my piercings in my ear, which I shouldn't have [laughs]

But I try and do things purposefully so that people ­– in expressing myself and my individuality – I hope that can be conveyed to the person that I'm talking with so that I seem – well not seem – but am more approachable and more alike them.

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: When I'm at a job with Matilda, we don't need to talk to each other almost, because she's in lockstep with the strategy. And she is a quick study. 

So you're capturing Matilda at the start of her career. You're capturing me, hopefully halfway through mine. 

But she is a rising star, and I have every hope that she will be one of the best negotiators in Australia because she's already on her way. 

Audio of Senior Constable Matilda Gledhill: It's a tool kit that you build over time. So very early on in your negotiating career, you'll be thinking of things in stages and in techniques, and you'll sort of be wracking your brain as to, “Okay, I've tried that. It didn't work. I tried this. It did work”. 

The feedback that you get from the real-life experience is unlike any anything you can learn from a book or even in a scenario-land.

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: The advice that I gave her once is the advice that someone gave to me who I respect. And they said, “I heard you talked someone off a bridge today”. 

And I said, “Yeah”. He goes, “You saved a life”. And I said, “I guess I did”. 

He goes, “Don't ever say that again”. I said, “Why?”. 

He goes, “Well, if you take that stance, that ‘I saved a life today’, well then you also have to take the other side of the coin. 

And that means that if the day goes bad, is it your fault?”. I said, “Wow, I didn't realise about it that way”. 

And the point he was trying to make, and the point that I made to Matilda, is that you need to find a way and a system that you do the best job you can and if it goes bad, take solace in the fact that you did everything you could. 

But you can't be taking that stuff home with you. And you can't have empathy to the point that you take on that person's pain because it's too much for them to bear. 

So how are we supposed to take that on if we're dealing with three, four, five critical incidents a week? It's impossible. 

Audio of Senior Constable Matilda Gledhill: I like to think I've got a fairly level head on me. And throughout my life experiences, I've learnt very healthy ways to deal with difficult things. 

Although it's probably a reason I don't take in a lot of the news, because I find that when we're at work we're pretty much surrounded by the darkest things that humans can confront. And so, when I leave my work, I just want to try and find the light and the peace and the happiness.

It's not the most juicy example of my work, but it sat with me. And it wasn't really a negotiation job. 

General duties were there, and I don't believe it was beyond their scope, which is essentially what our criteria is. However, we went and found this lady and she had a bit to drink and she was incredibly emotional. 

And what I learnt about what she had been through, something about it just struck me. 

I found myself quite affected afterwards, quite emotional, because I suppose from what I learned about her in a very short period of time, and her background, she didn't fit who we usually speak with. 

It was sort of like, this could be someone who I know closely. I guess it just made me stop and think, gosh, it is so fragile. Life is so fragile. 

And people, no matter what, no matter what their creed is, their background, their colour, regardless, we are all facing really difficult things. 

Voiceover: The negotiators’ cell is one of the more unique postings in Victoria Police.  

[Atmospheric music]

Audio of Senior Constable Matilda Gledhill: It's this sort of amazing combination. You can bring in your own values and ways of communicating that offer empathy, compassion, kindness, open mindedness, fairness where people aren't otherwise getting it. 

But we're still striving for a goal that is not only to serve that person, and what's fair to them and what they deserve in that moment, but also the community.

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: I don’t want to take you anywhere other than just to get your depot and then come straight home. 

Audio of man: Yeah, that’s what I want. 

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: And I’m not your enemy, I’m not your enemy.

One of the most important things about communicating with someone is the flow of information. And some of the challenges we have is what happens when someone just shouts at us and they don't want that information. 

And you can't just shout at someone. It's not going to work. So, we had a job where a bloke was armed with a knife, he was inside a shed and he needed to go to a hospital. He was unwell.

"I’ll look after you mate, I promise. You have my word."

He was shouting over the top of the police sergeant. She was doing a fantastic job. She'd actually been one of my students. 

Voiceover: The negotiator awareness package. It’s a one-day training course the negotiator cell gives to uniform police and detectives around the state. 

Up to 800 police attend each year, including this sergeant who was dealing with a man who needed to go to hospital for his medication. 

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: "Hey sergeant, can you hear me?"

Audio of sergeant responding: "Yep."

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: "Thank you so much for your help. We’re going to take over. I’m with the Critical Incident Response Team."

I’m not happy with the way he’s speaking to you, but we’re going to take over from here. Is that okay? 

Audio of sergeant responding: "Yeah, thanks for that."

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: "So, first things first. My name is Lee. I’m what’s called a police negotiator from the city. I’m from the Critical Incident Response Team."

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: I moved inside the house where I could see him. Face-to-face communication is really important. 

And then he started shouting over the top of me. And I came up with something on the spot. 

Turns out it worked. It was quite effective. I pretended to be on the phone.

[Man talking in the background]

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: "Hang on, hang on mate. I’ve gotta get a phone call, mate. Excuse me."

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: I wasn't on the phone to anyone. I picked my phone up and I just started talking to “the boss”. 

And then he immediately went silent. 

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: "Yeah, go ahead mate. Yeah, yeah, I’ve just taken over. Yeah, that’s fine. He’s having a psychotic episode."

[Man talking in the background]

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: "I’ve got ambulance - I’m on the phone, I’m on the phone, mate. Be quiet! Be quiet!"

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: And he starts interrupting me, “Oi, oi, oi”. 

And I said, “Hang on a second, I’m having a conversation with someone else, please”. And I continued talking. 

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: He’s having a psychotic episode. He needs to go to hospital.

At this stage, he’s not being criminally charged with anything, so I don’t know why he’s reluctant to come out. But he’s just going to go to hospital.

The ambulance is ready. He’s got to go get his depot and then he can go home and that’s going to be the end of it. 

But he’s talking about trying to kill us, he’s talking about murder. 

"I’m on the phone, mate! I’m on the phone. Hang on a second.”

[Man talking in the background]

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: Again, he starts to interrupt. He wants to be in on the conversation now, but he's not ready. 

“Put your manners back, I'm having a conversation. Be quiet. You're being rude.” 

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: So, his daughter is here. She wants to go with him.

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: So he starts saying, “Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me”. 

And I go, “Hang on a second, boss. Yes mate?” 

“Did you say my daughter's out the front?” 

And I said, “Thank you for talking to me civilly. I really appreciate it. And I'm sorry everyone was yelling at you before. Are you okay?” 

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: "Can we talk properly, instead? I’m coming around because I want to make sure you don’t get handcuffed or pepper sprayed, okay? One sec. You’re not going to hurt me, are you?  No weapons? Nothing?"

[Man talking in the background]

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: He said, “No, I'm not. I just want to go to hospital”. 

I said, “Why didn't you say that mate? We'll take you to hospital, absolutely. Can I come around and talk to you?” 

Again, I'm giving him control. 

“And I'll help you and I'll walk you out the front. You're going to be okay. There's support. But you're not going to hurt me, are you?” 

Again, people don't want to be misinterpreted. 

He said, “No, no, I promise you I'll put the knife down”. 

So he puts the knife down and I walk around. And within about five minutes he came out the front. 

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: Eh, it’s a misunderstanding, 90 per cent of conflict is misunderstanding. I think we misunderstood each other. 

And I think I’m starting to understand you a little bit better.

[Man talking in the background]

Audio of Leading Senior Constable Lee Wolahan: You have to find a system where you don't take too much of it home with you. And the reason is, is that this job is taxing. 

Once that person is in the back of the ambulance, back of the div van, for the most part I disconnect. 

And I don't want to know. As a father, especially if there's kids involved, I try to disconnect. 

I'll be as connected and have as much empathy in the world in that moment because that's what they need. 

But then, once they're in custody, I disconnect. And that's important for my own survivability. 

I get asked the question about the multi-ethnicity of Melbourne and how it affects my job, all the time, and the answer surprises people. 

Facial expressions, your body language and your actions transcend language. 

So one of the first things I want to do is I want to reduce stimulus. It doesn't matter what language you speak. 

If a police officer turns up, they look a little different and they push everyone back and they turn all the lights and sirens off and they put their hands up and they show a kindness in their face. 

That is often enough and it's very powerful. 

The only other problem is that if you start using translators, you run the risk of having an independent person negotiating on your behalf and miscommunication and misunderstanding is 90 per cent of conflict. 

So, I would rather stand there like an idiot using big, bold hand gestures and a smile on my face and the actions of what I'm doing to get that person to trust me, than use an interpreter, of which I have no control over the way the conversation goes. 

You should absolutely have the best negotiator you have at that moment. But most of us are Caucasian, male. 

But our diversity is important and if I'm in Broadmeadows in a predominantly Islamic neighbourhood, I'll be picking, not me, but one of my friends who does speak Arabic and is a practicing Muslim. 

And his ability to engage, connect and have some sense of community is way more effective straight off the bat than I. 

It doesn't mean I can't overcome it. It will just take more time. 

We absolutely do need to look at how much our society is changing and how much understanding we have. 

We have come up with this system and product that I think is absolutely priceless. To get someone from no to yes without use of force, that's the ultimate outcome. 

I'd resign tomorrow as a happy man knowing that was part of my career.

Voiceover: To learn more about the work of Victoria Police, go to police.vic.gov.au. 

And a reminder that if any of the themes in this episode have had an impact on you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. If life is in danger, call Triple Zero (000).

Voiceover: Police Life: The Experts is a Victoria Police production. 

Your host is Belinda Batty. It was written by Adam Shand. 

Additional writing and research by Jesse Wray-McCann. 

It was produced by Adam Shand and Jesse Wray-McCann.

 The senior producer was Ros Jaguar. 

Audio production and original music by Mat Dwyer.

 Theme song by Veaceslav Draganov. 

Executive produced by Beck Angel. 

This podcast was created by the Media, Communications and Engagement Department at Victoria Police.

A female and male negotiator in Victoria Police’s Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT), dressed in civillian clothes but armned, with CIRT tactical vests over the top of their clothes. The negotiators are unsmiling and facing the camera, and standing with a the Docklands waterfront and a large traffic bridge in the distance behind them.