Top NYPD crisis negotiator says exposing personal tragedies is key to combat suicide, hostage cases

(Graham Rayman/NY Daily News)– The NYPD’s top crisis negotiator rarely sees the long-term fruits of his labor.

But a couple of years back near courthouse row on Chambers St. in lower Manhattan, Lt. Chris Zimmerman was stopped by a big, burly, tattooed man dressed like a biker who had a shaved head.

“This guy stops me and says, ‘I just want to shake your hand. I stopped using drugs because you told me my life was more valuable than going to prison or dying,’ ” recalled Zimmerman, commander of the NYPD’s Hostage Negotiation Team. “I had no idea who he was. Then I remembered. It turned out I had helped talk him out of his apartment back in 2008. Small world.”

Zimmerman’s team responds to about 40 of the most serious calls a month with specially trained veteran detectives stationed around the city. The people they talk to are backed into a corner in the midst of the worst moments of their lives.

Sometimes, the calls involve hostage situations, but they also rush to calls involving people threatening suicide and people who have barricaded themselves in a room, refusing to come out.

“If you don’t care, you won’t be a good negotiator because then it just becomes a business, and you’re very standoffish,” he said. “You have to expose your own emotions to build that rapport. It’s not easy.”

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