Frank Bolz


VTR Date: April 24, 1977

Guest: Bolz, Frank


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Frank Bolz
Title: Hostages
VTR: 4/24/77

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. Today’s program is about an ugly bit of reality that surfaced in the 50s and 60s and 70s and that may unhappily loom even larger in the 1980s: terror, terrorism, the taking of hostages, all of which seem to have become epidemic in the contemporary world, even in the United States. I want to look at this matter today from one particular perspective: what police action can most effectively be taken to combat this physical blackmail. And my guest is Frank Bolz, the police captain who has gained an international reputation as the commander of New York City’s Police Hostage Negotiation Team.

Captain Bolz, thanks for joining me again today on THE OPEN MIND.

BOLZ: Thank you.

HEFFNER: We did a program a long time ago. Little did I believe, though maybe you did, that in the interim there would be quite so many incidents involving hostages as there have been.

BOLZ: Well, we always tended to think that this would diminish, whereas some people felt that it might grow. We’ve been fortunate in New York. We’ve more or less stayed at about the same level. We haven’t had any epidemic proportions in the New York area. I think perhaps it’s the way we handle them. We try not to glorify the people who take hostages.

HEFFNER: Are you suggesting that handling a particular incident may be a clue to preventing another one and another one and another one?

BOLZ: I think it does have some affect. I mean, people want to imitate martyrs. People will, the theory of cognitive dissonance indicates that what you pay for something puts the value on that particular thing. And the highest price you can pay for anything is your life. So if you take hostages and engage in some kind of terrorism and then give your life for that, well, perhaps this is something worthwhile for someone else to follow in your footsteps. And we try to diminish that kind of an attitude and try to deal with these people in the context of that they are inadequate personalities unable to utilize the accepted standards for dealing, for making change. And this inadequate personality is not far from being disturbed in some way.

HEFFNER: What you’re saying, in thinking through how to deal with those who have taken hostages, you put yourself in the frame of mind of thinking that these people basically are inadequate in terms of their developmental personalities?

BOLZ: Well, it doesn’t mean that they’re uneducated or that they’re unable to deal with people. But to deal with this particular context, they are doing it in an inadequate perspective or from an inadequate perspective. There are people, some very, very…some doctors have engaged in sorts of terrorism. You have Wadi Hadam, you’ve got George Habash, are all educated people, and yet they deal in this kind of terrorism. And the way they are dealing with it indicates that they are approaching it from the perspective of an inadequate personality in handling that.

HEFFNER: What’s the role that the press has played, and I don’t mean just the printed press, but the media have played in terms of bringing about a larger and larger premium that is placed upon hostage-taking and terrorism in our times?

BOLZ: Well, I think we have to recognize that the taking of hostages is done for the audience that it can create. In other words, one of the basic principles behind hostage-taking is a hostage is a hostage, and he is taken for the audience it can generate, the attention it can bring. If the person really intended to harm someone or to kill someone, and if someone does have that in mind, you’re never going to stop him from doing it. But if he takes a hostage, it’s a way for him to bring attention to his particular plight, to his particular cause. If he were to start to yell and scram, people would look at him and walk the other way. I mean, in New York especially, we see a lot of things taking place. For example, an artichoke walking down the street in New York doesn’t really attract too much attention, you know. There was a person dressed up as an artichoke, and he’s walking down 42nd Street and my wife and my daughter saw him walking down the street. And people just gave him a little room and kept right on walking, didn’t make too much attention. So a person who feels that he’s not getting his fair share, he may scream and yell, and people will just give him that little bit of extra body space, go around him, and continue on with what they’re doing. He gets no attention. But if he takes one hostage, puts a knife to his neck, and says, “Hey, look at me, I have a hostage”, everything will stop. Police come, the media will come. Now, yesterday, nobody would give him the right time. But today he’ll be on the six o’clock news. He will preempt the Monday night football game. That’s a big thing to do, to try to preempt that football game.

HEFFNER: You know, our objective obviously is not to pass judgment, but that seems to point in two directions: that the media play a constructive role, and that they play a destructive role.

BOLZ: Well, I wouldn’t say destructive. They play a constructive role in terms of they do give him the opportunity to vent this. And some people have indicated that perhaps the media should totally black out anything dealing with terrorism, totally black out anything dealing with hostage incidents. But I think if you look from the principle that he takes the hostage for attention, if you don’t give him attention for holding that hostage, he may escalate to such a horrendous crime that the media will have to cover it. And so I would say that the media does play an important role, and their role should be to report what is taking place. But they should not become participants in the action.

HEFFNER: What do you mean “participants”?

BOLZ: Well, sometimes you can see how the media almost sets up a few of the things. Some of the pictures that were coming in from Iran with a four-year-old kid with a casual-cocked rifle holding up, you know darn well that that kid didn’t hold that rifle; that somebody had to place that rifle and say, “Here, hold this, let’s get that shot. That looks good”. You know? And that kind of thing, I think, plays into the hand. There are times when the media, when people in the media attempt to contact the persons who are holding the hostages. And when they do that, sometimes without recognizing it, in their own zeal to try to capture not only news but also to create some kind of entertainment, they sometimes actually become participants and they ping-pong off each other, the person from the media and the person holding the hostage. And sometimes without recognizing it they can escalate up.

HEFFNER: Is that generally what has happened in your experience?

BOLZ: Well, we’ve been fortunate in New York, because we’ve shared with the media in New York our program and we’ve tried to let them know what our operation is about. Our Deputy Commissioner of Public information, first Frank McLaughlin when we started the program, and now Alan Fleischer, they have given to the media and we bring the media in on everything that we possibly can, thereby precluding them from doing things on their own where they’d interfere with an operation. And informed media who is aware of the program can handle their particular needs to inform their particular audience.

HEFFNER: You know, I have to say to those of the audience, that I just read your book, Hostage Cop, published by Ross and Wade, and I just found it absolutely fantastic, absolutely fascinating in terms of your recounting of many of the hostage-taking incidents that you’ve been involved with. I guess I found it very difficult to accept or become identified with you notion that the team is most successful when there are no – underlined, repeated – no injuries or deaths, and that includes the hostage-takers, that includes the person we can characterize as a terrorist. So many times in the book I wanted you to say “Shoot the son of a gun”. And you didn’t. Everything and every effort you made was to preserve human life all the way around.

BOLZ: Well, actually again it goes back to, we’re talking about the people who take hostages are inadequate personalities. And though our people, our emergency services people climb to the tops of bridges to rescue people who are attempting suicide. And many of these hostage incidents are latent attempts at suicide on the part of the person holding the hostage. And so the same concept of trying to save human life, whether it be a man dangling from a bridge or dangling from the side of a building or someone taking an overdose of sleeping pills, we kick in doors, we go with the lights and siren on, risking the lives of our people. And that began as to save the life of someone who at that particular moment can’t cope. An hour later, a day later, he may have the psychological reinforcement to be able to cope with life and never go into that kind of a situation again. And people who take hostages sometimes they take them out of utter frustration. They can’t find any other way. And they take that hostage to get that attention and call people’s attention to their particular plight. So again, even though we have, for the well-being of our own negotiators, have indicated that if a perpetrator commits suicide it will still be a successful job in terms of saving the lives of the hostages involved and in terms of making sure that no police were killed. But it does leave a little bit of a void. We’ve been fortunate. It’s only happened to us one time where the one fellow did manage to commit suicide, although we’ve had others try. And our emergency service people were able to give them cardiopulmonary resuscitation and actually bring them back to life. And one fellow did take a gun, put it to his head, pull the trigger, and actually put a hole right through his head. And we felt very bad that we were unable to recontact him after we got the last hostage from him and released. And he stepped in the back of the store, and we were attempting to recontact him and trying to bring him out safely, and he killed himself.

HEFFNER: If taking a hostage is a subtle way of attempting to commit suicide, then I suppose your reasoning is that if you help the perpetrator achieve that objective you’re saying to other perpetrators, “You want to commit suicide on a grand scale? Here’s the way to do it”. So that you try to stop him.

BOLZ: That’s correct. We try to keep him in problem-solving. You know, it goes from the dynamics of frustration and aggression. You know, if you’re frustrated so long and you can’t get it to run, it would appear that the next step would lead you right to an aggressive state. Right? But actually, people don’t become aggressive. They don’t go from frustration to aggression. They go into another step which we call problem-solving. For example, if I look at your pen and I say to you, “Can I have your pen?” You say, “Gee, no. That pen’s been in my family for a long time, and that’s an important pen”. And if I really, now I’m frustrated, and you won’t give that to me, I could do one of two things. I could punch you in the nose and take that pen. That’s aggressive, and I’ve got the pen. Or I can say to you, “Wait a minute. I have another pen. It would be just as useful to you, and as a matter of fact, it’s even worth more. Then what do you say we trade this pen?” What I’ve done now is I’ve gone into problem-solving. I haven’t become aggressive. I’ve tried another step. And if that other pen doesn’t work, how about the pen and $50? Or how about the pen and a book and $50? And now this is a problem-solving stage, and this is where we want to keep the person who is holding that hostage, who is frustrated, instead of cutting him off and telling him, “No, you cannot do this”, we’re going to try to give him another way out. We try to solve this problem or try to let him solve the problem. We can’t solve his problem, but we have to give him the opportunity for him to solve that problem without going to the aggressive step.

HEFFNER: What does your experience – and it’s been a very successful series of experiences here in New York – what does your experience indicate to you should be our posture as a nation and the posture of other nations when it comes to the international brand of terrorism? Right at this particular moment, I don’t know, I hope that when this program is seen we won’t be thinking about the possibility of dire consequences for 50 American hostages. But thinking though of those people, thinking of other incidents of international terrorism, what have you learned that could be applied internationally?

BOLZ: Well, I would not be so bold as to think that I have all the answers, because if I had all the answers I’d be running for office. I don’t. But I think there are certain principles that we use in domestic or civil kinds of hostage situations that can applied internationally. And those are patience, and the ability to have an alternative response. In other words, when we negotiate with a person holding hostages, we talk to him. But we have all manners of service people behind us with automatic weapons, with shotguns, machine guns, and so forth. They have the capability, if it must be escalated, if it does get escalated on the part of the perpetrator, we have the ability to meet force with force. But I think in terms of international strategies, that same kind of thing, first of all, a government cannot yield to terrorism, because once a government yields to terrorism, then of course no one is safe anywhere throughout the world. And I think the posture of our government and most governments is that they will not deal with terrorists. In this situation that’s taking place in Iran now, we have two different situations: you have the long-term situation and the short-term situation. In the short term the lives of those 50 people, the symbolic lives of those 50 people have to be handled and they have to be brought out safely. We cannot just disregard the lives of those people.

In the long term, however, we must realize that we cannot yield to the demands of the people who are holding these hostages, because to do so would jeopardize the entire country and every other American who ever travels abroad where they could be taken in order to use some kind of leverage to get this government to do certain types of things. There’s a moral obligation on the part of the administration to protect the backbone and the fiber of this democracy so that other countries can look to it for support. As I say I think what has happened so far, the president has moved in the only course of action open to him at this particular time. To go in on any kind of a military raid or anything that had been done at Entebbe and Mogadishu, I think would have been difficult, it would have been impossible to accomplish because in both of those other raids the people were being held in isolated areas. They were removed to everything. And the one other very, very important thing that was there was surprise, the element of surprise. No on will ever have that element again. No one ever expected the Israelis to come in from such a great distance to attempt that kind of rescue. The amount of intelligence that he Israelis had about the airport – they build the airport, so they had a duplicate airport in Israel so they could practice on. They had some other important information because all of the Christian hostages had been released. They were able to debrief these people. They even used hypnotism as part of the debriefing. So this is, they had all of these things going for them. These things are not in place in Iran. The president doesn’t have those options. So he’s got to deal with saving these lives of these 50 hostages.

HEFFNER: As number one?

BOLZ: As number one.

HEFFNER: Okay. You said something before about governments can’t, mustn’t make major concessions to hostage-taking. But hasn’t that been the pattern of international terrorism up to this point?

BOLZ: I don’t think really that the government of the United States, the government of Japan, the government of Germany have really not made concessions.

HEFFNER: Well, what about the Olympic Games in Munich? No concessions?

BOLZ: I don’t think, they didn’t make any concessions. What they wanted was, and you have to remember, that was one of the first times that hostages were taken. And actually in Germany they took Israelis hostage, so it wasn’t German citizens. But of course the German was having a more difficult time because here, 20 miles from Dachau, Jewish blood was being spilled in Germany again. And of course the Federal Republic wanted to indicate they were sensitive to this, and they wanted to make sure that no one had the impression that they were not sensitive to it. This was something right from the outset, the Federal Republic knew that they could not force the Israeli government to give up the 230 Arabs being held in Israeli jails. And the State of Israel considers themselves at a state of war in which these terrorists…and they were not about to yield to these demands. So here you had Manfred Schreiber, the police commissioner of Munich, who was handling the operation at that time, in a very, very difficult, no-win situation. He had to make the best of what was available to him based upon the restrictions that were placed on him from the Black September people as well as from the Israeli government. And he had to move within those parameters.

HEFFNER: You’ve been very successful. Again I say that. And I was interested in the, you, talking about one of the many, many incidents of hostage-taking. In your book, Hostage Cop, you say, “This would make the police mission that much harder. Seasoned criminals might recognize a lost cause and begin bargaining for something. But religious zealots? Who know what was on these men’s minds?” Now, I wonder whether on the international scene, the terrorism, the hostage-taking that we have been faced with and that we’re bound, I guess, to be faced with in this decade, won’t be characterized by that kind of religious fervor?

BOLZ: Again, we have to be extremely careful because if someone wants to be martyred, remember we go back to the theory of cognitive dissonance, right? If, what’s the highest price you can pay for anything? Your life. And that’s why we don’t want to give that person the opportunity to use us to put him in a position where he’s martyred.

HEFFNER: You mean the more fanatical the involvement, the more you’re going to avoid trying to make that concession to him of killing him?

BOLZ: Right. That’s right. That’s the standpoint that we deal from. I’m not privy to all of the international intrigue that goes one, and we recognize that there are diplomatic problems involved. There are protocol, there are treaties. I’m not familiar with these things. But based upon what I see and based upon what I’ve been informed by the State Department, it would appear that the actions that the government is taking now are the only actions that they can take based upon this.

HEFFNER: You know, this cognitive dissonance, what kind of talk is that for a cop? The theories that you’ve set forth, seriously, I know the kind of training that you’ve had and I know what’s gone on, a little bit, in the police department. But it is rather strange to find a tough cop – and you are a tough cop…

BOLZ: I’m a pushover. I’m a pussycat.

HEFFNER: Just a pussycat. I don’t want to meet you in a dark alley. I don’t want to meet you in the other end of this hostage-taking confrontation or any other kind of police action when I’m in the wrong. How did you get to become involved with the intellectualizations that you are involved with?

BOLZ: Well, there was a, that’s through my colleague with whom I set up the negotiating program with, Dr. Harvey Schlusberg. And Harvey Schlusberg was a police officer who became a clinical psychologist while he was on the job. The first one ever that became a clinical psychologist while a police officer. We’ve had clinical psychologists become police officers, but this is the first time a police officer became a psychologist. And Harvey and I put together the psychological, no, put together the negotiating part of the program that we have. And I brought the detective techniques, and Harvey brought the psychological principles, and we put them together in a fashion where we would use parochial police methods and psychology to deal with it. Now, working with Harvey for seven years and listening to his lectures and doing the lectures with him I picked up a good deal of psychology from him, plus the readings that we do. And actually a lot more police officers are getting college educations today. Most of the people that we have in our negotiating team have some college. Many of them have degrees, master’s degrees and so on. That’s not to say college alone is what makes you a good negotiator. I think what makes you a good negotiator is you have to be people-oriented and you have to like people and enjoy what you’re doing and enjoy police work in general.

HEFFNER: I was taken, in Hostage Cop, that you referred a number of times to the efforts made by the cops who got on the scene first that weren’t even members of your hostage team, your negotiating team, who seem to fit into what you are able to express as the basis for your activities, who seemed, as human being, to be able to identify with the real needs of the moment.

BOLZ: Well, I think most policemen become cops because they want to serve. And most policemen are, they’re egocentric to a degree because it’s nice to be up in the front. You know, when there’s a parade, you’re always up in the front looking at the parade. You’re supposed to be looking at the crowd, but most of the time you’re looking at the parade. And in the front of a fire line, you can see where the fire is. And that gives you that feeling, well, it’s an ego-satisfying kind of feeling. And yet, I think one of the best satisfying things is to be able to do something for someone, to be able to render some kind of help. And it may be where a person’s house is robbed or something like that. Well, from time to time you’ll find a cop who’s a little harsh, maybe a little unthinking or appearing to be uncaring at a given time, but you have to recognize he sometimes has personal problems that sometimes preclude him from really giving everything he want s to give to the people.

HEFFNER: Well, in Hostage Cop you talk about the “Stockholm Syndrome”. What is that?

BOLZ: Well, the Stockholm Syndrome, that’s a phenomena whereby people in crisis tend to want to share that crisis with another human being. People who are unable to cope alone need somebody else to share that with. I’ll give you an example that might be, which we use to express to a lot of the people when we start training the: Flying on an airplane, to a lot of people, you know, flying in an airplane is a crisis to them. And people get on board an aircraft, and I fly now quite a bit, and you can always tell a first-time flyer. You know? They grab ahold, they hold onto everything. And they’ll start chatting way like crazy. You know, they’ll be talking to you, “Oh, this is a nice airplane. Does it always make that noise like that? Oh, I’m flying to California. I’m going to see my Aunt Tillie. She’s got three daughters. Two of them are nuns, one’s a prostitute. The nuns aren’t doing so good”.

HEFFNER: (Laughter)

BOLZ: They’ll give you a whole family history in less than three minutes. You know? And they don’t know you; you’re a total stranger. And yet when you land on the ground maybe you may say, “Would you care to have a cup of coffee?” “I beg your pardon. I don’t speak to strangers”. You know? And it’ll just change around. In the airplane, they were in fear. They were afraid of the possible consequences or something they didn’t know. But on the ground they’re in familiar territory and consequently now they feel that they can deal wit it. By the term “Stockholm Syndrome”, that comes from an incident that took place in a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973. In this particular incident one bank robber who arranged to have a colleague of his brought from a prison into a bank, they held up the bank and they were thwarted in the attempt and they took three women and one man hostage and stayed in a bank vault for about six days. Now, in that bank vault they were held in intolerable conditions. They had no sanitary facilities. They were using wastebaskets on the side. Two of the women had their menstrual cycle during this time. And there was no, the food that they had was just sent in. There were no facilities at all. And during the course of these six days, they would march the women along with machine guns under their neck like this on their tiptoes. Other times they took wire and wired their necks to the safe deposit boxes, telling the authorities, “If you send in gas, it will make them pass out, and they’ll strangle, and this will be your problem”. Now, after they decided to come out, the women and the other hostages put themselves around the perpetrators so that the police would not shoot them. They thought the police might shoot them. And when asked, “Why did you want to do it, why did you do this?” They said, “Well they’re such wonderful people. They treated us so nice”. They let them live, and that was the big thing.

HEFFNER: And I gather that sometimes policemen feel that way, too, after they’ve negotiated with a hostage-taker.

BOLZ: You can have. That’s right.

HEFFNER: You know, it’s an absolutely fascinating subject. One, unfortunately, that we’re going to have to deal with a great deal more in the future. Thanks so much for joining me today, Captain Frank Bolz.

BOLZ: Thank you.

HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope that you’ll join us again on THE OPEN MIND. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night, and good luck”.