Amid the ongoing hostage crisis in Sydney, the chief of the Mumbai police’s Hostage and Crisis Negotiation Team (HCNT), formed four years ago, said Monday that it had only handled cases like attempt to suicide and kidnapping so far, besides participating in mock drills.
The team, comprising 17 police inspector-rank officers, was formed in 2010, two years after the 26/11 attacks in the city. Police sources said the need for a special hostage negotiation team was felt at the time of the attacks, but its urgency was only realised in 2010, when retired customs officer Harish Maroliya took his neighbour’s 14-year-old daughter hostage and later shot her at his Andheri residence. Two policemen were also injured when they attempted to save her, and Marolia ultimately fell prey to a police bullet.
The HCNT is currently headed by Police Inspector Shalini Sharma, at present posted with the city police’s Extradition Cell. Sharma was the first officer to receive specialised training in hostage crisis management from Scotland Yard.
“HCNT officers have participated in cases of attempt to suicides and also kidnappings. We accompany the police and try to talk kidnappers into releasing their victims. A few months ago, a man had slit his girlfriend’s throat in Ghatkopar. We counselled the man and talked him into confessing to his crime,” Sharma said, while adding that “we are prepared for any hostage crisis in Mumbai.”
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch) Dhananjay Kulkarni, who is also the spokesperson for the Mumbai police, said although HCNT was trained to handle any hostage crisis, they still needed to take an overview of the team after the Sydney incident, where gunmen held over 20 people hostage in a cafe.
“We we will talk to officers in the team and find out whether more training sessions are required,” said Kulkarni.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Harvinderkaur Waraich, Port zone, who was the city’s first appointed hostage negotiator, said that since their training in 2011, HCNT has not dealt with any major hostage crisis. “There has not been any incident where we have been called since then,” said Waraich, who is due for retirement on December 31, said.
The officers comprising HCNT were selected randomly on the basis of their interests and capabilities. All police control rooms have been provided with the mobile numbers of these officers.