Police across North America are beginning to use experienced fundraisers to help defuse violent standoffs. The US Chiefs of Police Association says seasoned major gift officers are beginning to replace traditional hostage negotiators in police forces around the country.
“Police forces are beginning to realize that there’s only one kind of person that can defuse a tense hostage situation and that’s someone who could charm a tail right off a beaver. That’s why we’re turning to fundraisers,” said Chief Dibble Brewer, chairman of the Association, and head of the police force in Turpentine, Texas.
Brewer says they started recruiting fundraisers for their hostage negotiations unit two years ago after an incident at a local liquor store in which a gang of three robbers took ten people hostage, one of them the head of fundraising at the local hospital. The hostage negotiator brought in to end the standoff failed to find a solution. Police were about to assault the building when the fundraiser inside managed to charm the thugs into surrendering peacefully. He also secured planned gifts for two of them and the other made a donation to the hospital of $150.00 and a sawed-off shotgun and shells.
“That’s when we knew that fundraisers were the way to go. We needed those kinds of weapons in our arsenal,” said Brewer.
Initial attempts to send police officers to fundraising school to learn how to make major gift solicitations didn’t work. The officers were only able to raise a small amount of money from hostage-takers and research showed that many of them did not renew their pledges.
Brewer started recruiting successful fundraisers from local charities instead. The force gave them police training, bullet-proof vests, brochures and a new fundraising database. The new hostage negotiation team began work a year ago and has been wildly successful. It was able to end more than 13 hostage situations without violence and raise $500,000 for the force’s benevolent fund and local charities.
Six months ago, a gang of terrorists raided an Army base outside of town to try and steal chemical weapons. The raid went badly, and the terrorists took hostages at the base’s donut shop. Things looked bleak until the new fundraisers came on the scene. Within two hours, the terrorists had surrendered without a shot being fired, had told police where their hideout was and had pledged more than $15,000 to a children’s charity that helps unite sick kids with stray dogs and cats that need a home.
“Those guys were amazing. They started out saying they wanted to come visit the terrorists inside the donut shop just to talk about their fundraising campaign, and not to ask them for a donation. Then they started talking. We fed them information on the terrorists, such as their families, the name of their dogs and kids and their giving history. Next thing you know, these scum were signing the pledge sheets and handing over their weapons of mass destruction,” recalled Brewer.
Other police forces were quick to follow suit. There are now at least two dozen fundraiser-based hostage negotiation teams in police forces in the US and Canada. The largest is in New York City, where a team of 12 major gift officers, two planned gift officers and three database experts work. The NYC team has so far had a perfect record in ending hostage situations peacefully and has raised more money than small universities in the New York area.
“Getting criminals to stop killing people, taking hostages and blowing stuff up and instead, make a donation to a worthy charity. That’s what philanthropy is all about,” said Brewer.