Behavioral Science Unit – Part III

January 8, 2009

For the past couple of weeks, we have covered the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, known as the BSU.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello. I’m Neal Schiff, and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. For the past couple of weeks, we have covered the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, known as the BSU. Supervisory Special Agent Dr. Greg Vecchi is the unit chief of BSU, which is located at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia. The BSU is where, years ago, special agents began profiling serial killers. So much more is done now as Dr. Vecchi and his staff do a lot of analysis and reports, and all this to help agents and police who are out there working 24/7 to keep our country safe.

Dr. Vecchi: “Well, what we do is, we do all the hard work for them. We look at various types of offenders and the types of crimes that they commit. I will give you an example here. Let’s say, how do you deal with a hostage taking? How do you, instead of, other than shooting them or trying to go in and do some sort of tactical action. Well, when you can’t do that, all you’ve got is your verbal skill set. So, there’s a lot of stuff that we have done in the past.

In fact, shortly after—and I’ll give you an example—shortly after 1972, when the Munich Olympics occurred, the New York Police Department decided that, you know, ‘We should probably maybe start doing some sort of a negotiation program.’ Before that, there was no such thing as negotiation teams at all. So what happened is they started kind of like a pilot test on that, where they had a guy by the name of Frank Bolz and some other people and some psychologists that were associated with him, start talking to the perpetrators during the crime. What they found out was that, it seems to be working. They instituted this whole negotiation thing. That, of course, has developed into a complete discipline of hostage negotiation. In fact, the Behavioral Science Unit, one of the many things that came out of our unit, was the Crisis Management Unit, which eventually then split and became the Crisis Negotiation Unit, so all the negotiation stuff that is out there that’s used primarily by law enforcement, especially by the FBI, was all developed, first and foremost, here. And then after it became such a specialty area, we more or less, kind of like birthing, you kick them out the nest and they become their own entities. Now you’ve got these specialty units out there that came from BSU that just focus on that.

But to get back to your question, as far as how does it deal with the cop? The question is, you are talking about negotiations. Well, we all know that negotiations work. But how do you train it? And how do you make it so it’s a methodology? So there’s a specific method; it’s trainable; it can be replicated; it can be validated; and you can actually measure it, and then based on those measurements you can try to become better.

Mr. Schiff: Dr. Vecchi says training is so very important so that the agents and police on the streets know just what to do when faced with a dangerous situation.

Dr. Vecchi: “What we try to do is package a very complicated theory or complicated way of doing things, breaking it down to the bare essentials and putting it into steps. We publish this in publications and text books, magazine articles, journals, special textbooks, special training manuals and stuff, and, of course, we train it. So it all becomes kind of like a consistent training, and with that, we do the research, and then we try it out or other people try it out, and we get feedback from them and we get our own feedback, and we go back in and we fix it. Over the years, what you have is basically world class training that can be taught and replicated; you can train the trainer so that you have people following a methodology that works. So they don’t show up at the crime scene or they show up at a hostage situation and they’re trying to learn as they go when people’s lives are in danger. We are giving them that shortcut, that schematic, that map.

So what we try to do, then, is develop training. We train the people; we put them on the hot seat; we role play them; let them practice. We give them job aids and we give them publications and things, and then they go out and try it. And then they come back and we get feedback, and then we make adjustments if something didn’t work. So at the end of the day what we have is, we have training, and we have research, and we have consultation products that have been vetted over and over again in real life. We keep bringing it back and redoing it, and then going back to our clients and the people that are doing it, and then getting it to the point that we have like, it’s like a schematic; it’s like a methodology that is teachable, that can be taught to other people who can teach other people. So instead of having a hostage negotiator going there and just kind of guess or make trial and error over a period of a number of negotiations where, basically, lives are at stake, you are giving them a tactical shortcut or a shortcut methodology, a way for them to go in there knowing that they already know how to do it because we’ve already trained it, we’ve practiced it, and we’ve still kept our foot on the ground the whole way. We have added an element of reality to it.

So it’s this constant training, this constant research to make the training better, then the consultations and the case stuff that keeps it real. That’s really the benefit of behavioral science and everything that we do, that’s how it helps them. We provide, we come up with a method that is easy to teach, a method that’s easy to follow, then we, based on feedback, help them get better and better and better, and then we do train the trainer. Because we can’t, obviously, train everybody, so we leverage our resources by training other people to do the training for us. Before you know it, then it becomes industry standard, and that’s typically what has happened for a number of our programs.

Mr. Schiff: We asked Dr. Vecchi about the future. What does his crystal ball show in the area of behavioral science?

Dr. Vecchi: “Well, we see a lot of areas to be readdressed. Suicide, for example. There’s always a higher suicide rate, and we know that to be in law enforcement and the military, and part of that is the stress of the job and personal factors and things. What we are seeing is, I’m sure you have heard this term, ‘suicide by cop,’ where a person who wants to die, but doesn’t want to kill himself, will run after a cop and point a gun at the cop and the cop will be forced to shoot him, thereby, officer assisted suicide, is another word for it.

Well, we’re seeing some changes, we’re seeing something that we’ve labeled ‘suicide by cop, by cop,’ where you have cops who are so stressed out that they will actually seek out another cop from another department and point a gun at them forcing them to shoot them. That’s an area of future that we are seeing. I touched on the school violence stuff. The school violence stuff has always been associated, well, it’s either a child or someone that’s associated with the school. Well, that may be changing, and we want to look at that.

We are look at a lot of the national security areas, insider threats. Looking at, how do you deal with a source of information that you may never see? How do you vet that person, like through cyberspace? Law enforcement lives and dies and breathes by informants, and everyone knows that’s important; you have to have someone out there telling you what’s going on. Now with cyberspace, you have the problem where you have people that would be willing to work with the police and help them and give them information, but they want to remain anonymous. So how do you reach across cyberspace to vet this person? How do you deal with someone and vet someone that you may never meet? Or more importantly, what we are trying to do is try to establish, well, how can we make the time frame between when we make contact with them over the Internet to the actual meeting time? How do we close that gap so we can add more value to the investigation and save resources, make it go quicker and also make sure we are going down the right avenue?

The hostage taking stuff, I think, is going to be big. We are interested in looking at not just aspects of the Mexican hostage taking or school hostage taking, but we are also looking at some of the things you’ll see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where you see the beheadings, those types of hostage takings. We want to look at that and that arena.

Even the pirates around Somalia, we want to talk to those folks. That’s part of the future we are looking at. Pretty much all of our topics, we just want to make sure that we readdress everything at least within every five years to see what changes in behavior, what are the different crime patterns, so we can come up with the best training and the best research and the best assistance we can provide to these new and emerging problems.”

Mr. Schiff: There are so many aspects of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. If you missed our two previous Inside the FBI podcasts, you may wish to hear them. Also, click to to find out more about Dr. Vecchi’s unit and what they’re working on. That’s our show for this week. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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