SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — If someone picked up a weapon and decided to hold another person against their will, what can be said to talk them down?

After 47 years as an FBI agent, consultant and instructor, Thomas Strentz has had to find those words in situations at home and abroad many times.

One of the crises he worked on was the 1977 Hanafi Siege in which 12 gunmen took 149 people hostage at several buildings around Washington D.C.

A radio reporter and a police officer were killed as one assailant tried to avenge the murder of his family. 

The hostage situation in South Sacramento ended with both men leaving the home alive.

“A good negotiator spends most of his or her time listening not talking, and that’s crucial because you learn when you listen. And most people who are involved in this kind of crisis have a story to tell. Either why it’s not their fault or what their justification is, and I congratulate the police department,” Strentz said.

Unfortunately, we have several regional examples of standoffs that have spread fear and grabbed headlines over the years.

In July of 2021, a deputy and four other people were killed in a hostage crisis in Kern County.

Back in 2010, a man held his baby’s cousin hostage for 55 hours in the Arden Arcade area of Sacramento.

And looking back 31 years, there was an eight-hour standoff in the Capital city between police and four gunmen who took 41 hostages at a Good Guys electronics store. Three hostages died in that incident and three out of the four gunmen were killed.

Fourteen other hostages were hurt in what is still the largest hostage rescue operation in U.S. history.

While one person has to be in communication with a hostage-taker, Strentz said lawsuits against the FBI have helped the agency learn that negotiating must be a team effort.

“We have one negotiator who’s the primary, talking to the subject, but he or she has several folks working with them because all too often when we’re negotiating with someone and they’re saying something we begin thinking about what we’re going to say in rebuttal and all too often miss some of the things that they actually said,” Strentz explained.

According to Strentz, that’s why constant training in real-life scenarios, along with hearing from other negotiators about what went right and wrong in their incidents, is key.