The Prince George's County police department, along with police in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Diego, has been selected by the State Department to help train other nations' police in combating terrorism.
The police "conflict management" team in Prince George's will train foreign officers in a range of emergency service practices, including hostage negotiations, weapons and tactical demonstrations, and detecting and defusing explosives, said Capt. Robert Phillips, commander of Prince George's special operations division.
Twelve senior officers of the Honduran national police force will train here for two weeks next month, Phillips said. About four dozen officers from Brunei will be trained in January and February.
State Department spokesman Michael Kraft said the training is part of an antiterrorist program being conducted for U.S. allies. This is the first time Prince George's has been selected, he said. It is the only suburban police force participating.
Kraft said the county was selected "partially because of location -- they're so close to Washington it's convenient," but also because the county "is known to be particularly good in the area of crisis management. That's one of their specialties."
He said the State Department was aware of the county police force's reputation even before a "60 Minutes" profile last year that featured a full-scale, simulated hostage-taking incident with hostage negotiators in action.
Phillips said he thinks "our unique training system" may have been a reason the county was selected.
In addition to normal training exercises and classes, he said, the county requires officers to take psychiatric and psychology courses run by Johns Hopkins University. Officers must also volunteer for suicide hot lines and attend lectures and film programs sponsored by federal agencies such as the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Prince George's also brings in professional actors to act out hostage-taking dramas for the police.
"It's a little more realistic than just picking somebody out of a class and saying, 'Okay, you pretend to take a hostage.' " Phillips said.
This year, he said, the county even brought in a man who had shot at several police cruisers last year and had barricaded himself in a Forestville apartment. No one was injured in the siege, Phillips said.
"We use any and every source of expertise we can find," Phillips said of this unusual instructor. "When we brought him on, people sat up and took notice . . . . It really helps to know what's going through someone's mind when this type of incident happens."
Phillips said the conflict managment team that he directs is "not a living, breathing, day-to-day unit," but a group of specially trained officers who "come together as a team maybe 20 times a year." They are not called a SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team, Phillips said, because "our emphasis is on peaceful solutions and patience, rather than force" and weapons.
An example of the conflict management team in action, he said, was a 1983 incident in which a man held 12 women hostage at Landover Mall and threatened to set off an explosive device unless his demands for money were met.
That situation was resolved, Phillips said, when a hostage negotiator persuaded the man to go into a hallway to talk privately, while other team members cut a hole through an office wall and evacuated the women. No one was injured.
The team has trained other officers in hostage negotiations, Phillips said, including units from the Army and Air Force and police departments in New Jersey, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.
It is common for police departments to exchange information on emergency service practices. Last year, Montgomery County police trained Ocean City (Md.) officers in hostage negotiations, and in past years District of Columbia police and the Fairfax County Sheriff's Department have participated in State Department exchange programs.
Phillips said the Honduran police "haven't had a lot of training" in hostage negotiation, and their sessions with the county officers will "give them a chance to see how one police force that has had experience in this area responds."