For nearly 20 years, doctoral students in Nova Southeastern University’s Center for Psychological Studies (CPS) have helped police hostage negotiation teams across South Florida. This group, called the Nova Players, was recently honored for their work.
Under the supervision of Vincent Van Hasselt, Ph.D., professor of psychology at CPS, and a police officer with the Plantation Police Department, these students have volunteered their time to serve as role players in scenario-based training exercises that have been the vehicle for assessment and training of hostage negotiation teams nationwide. As Nova Players, the students, all with an interest in police and forensic psychology, enact the roles of hostage taker, hostage, witness or barricaded subject, depending each scenario. They also assist in providing feedback to police negotiator trainees on their performance following resolution of each situation.
While involvement in the Nova Players has always been voluntary, students gain considerable first-hand experience in the workings of both hostage negotiation and tactical (S.W.A.T) teams, and how they function in tandem. They also have opportunities to sharpen their assessment and intervention skills in realistic simulations of real-world crises.
Recently, the Nova Players began helping role-play scenarios incorporated as part of Broward County’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. CIT involves advanced instruction in mental illness awareness for police officers and is designed to: (1) reduce lethal encounters with individuals having a serious psychiatric disorder, and (2) get them connected with the mental health services they need rather than taking them to jail. The Nova Players have been very helpful in this important activity as well.
When Nova Players graduate, for many it’s not the end of their time in law enforcement. Several students have gone on to highly successful careers as police psychologists in law enforcement agencies, including the Las Vegas, New York City and San Antonio police departments, Arizona State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service and as correctional psychologists in the Federal Bureau of Prisons system.