Tag Archives: writing police

Q&A: Delta and HRT

Hi, I’m writing an urban fantasy where the deuteragonist is a former member of Delta Force and FBI Special Agent who works with the FBI Hostage Rescue Teams as an instructor. Any tips for the do’s and don’t for hostage rescue situations?

Okay, I’m going to chew on the background for a second. Your character sounds like a unicorn. It’s not. The combo is a lot more plausible than it first seems, but it sounds a bit out there.

Delta Operators are vanishingly rare. The exact size of the organization is classified, but best guess is that there’s only around 250 – 300 Delta Force Operators cleared for field work or hostage recovery at any given time.

I’m not clear on exactly how many Hostage Rescue Teams the Bureau maintains, but it’s also a short list. If your character trains the HRTs, that’s a full time job.

The reason the Delta to FBI thing strikes me as weird, beyond simply collecting alphabet soup, is that Delta trains FBI HRTs, and, the FBI’s HRT instructors train Delta. It’s a symbiotic ouroboros. Both groups practice some of the same tactics, though the exact methodology varies. This leaves me with a simple question of, “why?”

Why leave the military, to go to the Bureau to do the same job with the same people, and a fraction of the benefits? This doesn’t mean you can’t, or that someone wouldn’t, just remember it’s probably unnecessary. Your Delta instructor could very well know and have trained your HRT member protagonists with no extra layers mixed in.

Given this is urban fantasy, that might be your reasoning. Characters like Ultraviolet‘s Vaughn Rice (Idris Elba) come to mind. They’ve seen horrific things in mundane organizations, and were inducted into clandestine monster hunting agencies because of their experiences.

Though, I’m not 100% certain the HRTs a good fit. Especially if your setting has Delta, or more specialized groups tasked with countering supernatural threats and monsters. If that’s the case, you might want to trim one of those off. Your character went from Delta or HRT into their monster hunting organization, rather than stacking up multiple “elite” backgrounds, even if they are justifiable together. I guess, one entirely plausible explanation is if your character is setting up their own agency, and tap your Delta/HRT to bring the new program up to speed. That would track. Still strange that they’d follow that career path, but it would certainly bump their resume up the pile, when searching for recruits.

To be fair, there’s also a lingering question of, “why isn’t this guy your protagonist?” They may, very well, be a more interesting character than whomever you planned to run with. This isn’t a strike against them if you’re careful. Just, be aware that you may need to up your protagonist’s game to keep them engaging.

As for actual hostage rescue tactics, I’m not the best person to ask. My original primer was via The Negotiator. It’s a good film (if you can still stomach Kevin Spacey), but not something I’d call educational. A quick search did turn up this article on PoliceOne.com. I’m not particularly familiar with the site, but the information tracks with what I do know, and the psychological methods presented are solid, so, it seems legit. There’s also a much more in-depth primer on HowStuffWorks.com. It’s not comprehensive, but should fill in some minutiae that the PoliceOne article skimmed over. You may also want to ask @Skypig357 for his opinion.

I’m also left with questions for how viable hostage rescue would be when dealing with supernatural threats. Though, I suppose, in a context like the Nightwatch novels, or Men in Black, where you’re dealing with the supernatural as just another law enforcement headache, it’s certainly possible.


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In most states, when someone gets shot by their dog it’s standard to only mention they’ve been shot. Florida is the only state where they mention all the embarrassing details, so that’s why they sound like they have the craziest stuff happening.

Actually, “person shot by animal” is usually unusual enough that it makes the local news, regardless of where you are. In fact the only fatality I’m aware of from one of these cases was in Texas, so Florida’s off the hook this round.

That said, Florida is more free with their incident reports, but, I suspect the real issue is that Florida has more local news outlets that drag up the, “you won’t believe this shit” stories to kill time, in contrast to other places, like NYC, that have just as many deranged entries on the Police Blotters, but it gets filtered out by the media, in favor of “serious news.” To be fair, I am speculating a bit, here.

If you’re writing police characters, then Florida is very useful for getting an idea of all the loopy stuff they have to deal with everwhere.


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I’m writing a teen disabled female police officer who is paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair. Is the strain of fighting or shooting a gun too unrealistic? If so, what are her options for combat? Thank you!

As a quick forward: this one’s been in our backlog for a little while, so it’s not another response to the recent FBI posts.

The part where she’s a teenage, paraplegic, police officer is a problem. Handling a gun isn’t the issue. While some police agencies will accept cadets who are 18, it’s rare to see one that will allow a cadet under 21 to graduate.

That said, as I mentioned yesterday, there are Explorer programs, which focus on getting teens involved in Law Enforcement as a career. Depending on the agency, their history with an explorer program, and the presence of a sponsor it’s possible you might see a 19 year old serving in a probationary capacity in some local agencies.

It’s worth mentioning, that standard operating procedure for training officers to use breathalyzers is to take half the class, get them completely soused, and then have the other half of the class administer the tests on them. Then, the next week, they reverse roles. The ones who were three sheets to the wind, get revenge to administer the test to their classmates. Obviously, if you’re not old enough to drink… this could raise some minor issues.

The paraplegic part is the other major problem. For a police officer, an injury that paralyzes them is a career ender. They may be able to find a new place in their agency in a support role, such as dispatch, public relations, analysis, possibly even in forensics. Depending on their education, they may even be able to transition into a new career in the DA’s office. If they’re a detective, they could well find work in the private sector as a Private Investigator. But, their days as a patrol officer or detective are over.

This isn’t because they can’t fight. There are quite a few fantastic paraplegic martial artists. Some martial arts are less suitable than others, but nothing about being confined to a wheelchair means you cannot fight.

The same is true of firearms. There are plenty of talented wheelchair bound shooters. If you’ve got a character who is a competitive sport shooter, then being in a wheelchair is something they can work with. Actually, having a character who is in a chair, and carries a gun for self defense isn’t unrealistic. There are people who do exactly that.

Having a teenager who carries a gun, on the other hand, is a bit of a problem. Most states require that you’re 21 before they’ll issue a concealed carry permit. There are a few, like California, Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas, who will issue a CC permit to an 18 year old. But, as far as I can remember, Alaska is the only state willing to issue a CC permit below that (they still require that you’re 16).

The problem for an officer in a wheelchair is, they can’t actually do their job.

Under US law, your employer is not allowed to discriminate against you based on a disability that can be overcome with reasonable accommodations. In a normal position, partial paralysis may not be a serious issue. A partially paralyzed attorney or forensics expert isn’t going to be any less capable of doing their job. The only accommodations needed would be specialized desks and access that’s already guaranteed under the ADA anyway.

For law enforcement officers, the situation is a little different. Potential candidates have their disability weighed on the risk of sudden incapacitation. This is where a partially paralyzed officer becomes a serious liability. It may strike you as grossly unfair, but the inability to pursue a suspect up a flight of stairs is a real concern, and means they cannot do their job. Also, the difficulty in physically restraining a combative suspect is a real concern. Not just for the officer, but also their partner.

I’ll add, this wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a fictional LEO, who is medically ineligible for their job. The X-Files’ Fox Mulder comes to mind immediately. He identifies as Red-Green colorblind in an early episode, as a plot point. (It’s the reason a government mind control device doesn’t work on him. Yes, this is The X-Files after all.) As you might have guessed, being colorblind is a disqualifying condition for the FBI.

That said, this is one of those cases where, there’s real logistical concerns, that make your character a serious liability to the people around her. There’s a lot of really solid character material for a police officer who was paralyzed in the line of duty, coming to terms with it, and building a new life for themselves. There’s a lot of potential for a teenager who wanted to become a cop, maybe because it was a family tradition, who just watched their future go up in smoke because of a bad slip on the ice. There may even be someplace to use both of those characters in the same story. But, a teenage cop, is a non-start. A paralyzed cop on the job is a liability.

That doesn’t mean you can’t rework this into something else. The pieces you’re putting on the table here could lead to a compelling story. It’s just, I don’t think it was the one you were expecting.


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You mean my 14-years old blue haired assassin in belts and black leather cannot be in the FBI? :( But my entire novel relies on this part!


Actually, I know it’s a joke, but I did forget to mention last night. The Bureau actually has strict age requirements. You must be between 25 and 35 years old. Exceptions are possible for applicants over 35 if they have some prior law enforcement background (as I recall, it specifically needs to be Federal law enforcement). You’ll sometimes see this reported as between 23 and 37. 23 is the earliest you can apply, 25 is the earliest you can be accepted. 35 is the latest you can apply, and you must be accepted before your 37th birthday.

Mandatory retirement is 55. You need to be able to serve for at least 20 years, which is why the age limit is set at 35.

No teenagers. Actually, generally speaking, no teens working for any federal agency in a law enforcement capacity. You might see some employed in a PR/outreach position, but you’re not going to be giving them badges. The only time you’ll see teenagers in law enforcement, it’ll be part of an explorer program. These are programs specifically designed to interest high school students in law enforcement careers. Think of it as the police version of ROTC. And, stating the obvious, they do not have investigation or enforcement authority.


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