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Development of a System for the Classification of Hostage Takers

Grant Winners

  • Vincent B. Van Hasselt, Ph.D. – Center for Psychological Studies
  • Gregory M. Vecchi, M.S. (Student) – Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences


  • Ronald Levant – Center for Psychological Studies
  • Honggang Yang – Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences


Hostage-taking, the holding of one or more persons against their will, with the actual or implied use of force, has become a growing problem for law enforcement personnel worldwide. However, despite the increased public, media, and professional attention to this phenomenon, few investigative efforts have been directed to determining the characteristics and types of individuals who engage in such criminal behavior. The purpose of the proposed project is to carry out the initial phase of a large-scale program to develop an empirically-derived, behaviorally-based system for the classification of hostage-takers. This will be a collaborative effort with the FBI Crisis Negotiations Unit (CNC). Further, the project will adhere to the assessment model originally constructed by the FBI Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) in their landmark investigations which generated psychological profiles and taxonomies of serial killers and sexual predators through in-depth evaluations. Funding sought through this application is specifically for consultation and collaboration with CNU and BSU personnel at the FBI Academy to:

  1. design a standardized Structured Interview protocol that will be administered to hostage-takers,
  2. develop a Record Review protocol that will be employed to obtain archival data (i.e., information from psychiatric and criminal records, etc.) pertinent to their evaluation, and
  3. conduct a pilot test of these protocols with 10-12 incarcerated hostage-takers. Completed protocols and collected data from this study will serve as pilot data for a joint grant application (with the FBI) to the U.S. Department of Justice to fund a large-scale evaluation program involving approximately 200 hostage-takers.

It is predicted that the resulting classification system will:

  1. help to further threat assessment methodology,
  2. increase non-lethal resolutions through use of more prescriptive strategies in the hostage-negotiation process, and
  3. improve the design of violence prevention and intervention programs.
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