Salute the Badge: TPD crisis negotiator remains calm under pressure

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Vidal Campos was five years old when he first saw a police officer.

"They came to talk to us about 9-1-1 and ever since-- that was it," he recalls. "I loved the uniform and I just wanted to serve my community."

The Army veteran became a Topeka Police Officer in 2003 and, now, convinces others to join the force as head of training and recruitment. But he also plays another role as a member of the crisis negotiating team.

"We just never know their mentality and where they're at," Campos said, explaining each situation is a challenge.

Campos is one of seven crisis negotiators on the Topeka Police Department. Each takes on different roles at a scene, whether it's gathering information or the lead negotiator, who'll do the talking.

"We take everything we know about (the suspect) and then we'll start talking," Campos said. "Whether it's their kids or maybe they had a bad day or maybe he got fired from work, or maybe he got into a fight with his wife or their husband - whatever that situation is, we'll try to target something specific about that moment and then we'll start talking about it."

Every primary negotiator is backed up by a coach, or secondary negotiator.

"Their role is to make sure they're taking good notes, listening to the communication between the suspect and the primary," Campos said. "Maybe that primary negotiator forgets something or maybe he just has that roadblock where he has nothing else to say, and so that coach will push him and pass some notes and say, 'Maybe you know what - maybe you need to start talking about this.'"

One thing they won't do is rush.

"Time's always gonna be on our side," he said. "We don't know if the suspect is armed, dangerous, if he booby-trapped the house. We want to make sure that our officers that are going inside the house, if it comes to that, that they're safe. We'd rather talk them out and have that person come out."

Campos says a suspect who won't come out - or won't even talk - is most frustrating. In May 2015, the suspect in a shootout with Oklahoma troopers, leading to a chase that crossed into Kansas, holed up in a house near Coffeyville. The KBI needed a negotiator who spoke Spanish and called in Campos.

Campos called it the most challenging incident he's handled, working for eight hour straight.

"He refused to talk to me, just did not want to come out," he said.

The man eventually gave up, overwhelmed by tear gas.

Other scenes are made tough by the situation. In 2012, Campos briefly took part in the negotiations with David Tiscareno, who'd shot and killed Campos' fellow TPD officers David Gogian and Jeff Atherly. It ended with Tiscareno shot and killed.

"It's difficult," Campos said. "You know the officer, you know what the suspect is capable of doing and what he already did, so that makes it definitely a lot harder not to bring emotions in, but you have to do it and remain calm."

Campos estimates the team is called out an average ten times a year. On each response, he says team members rely on each other. They want a suspect to walk out the door so they can go home, and walk through their own.

"At the end of the day, when I'm able to get that person out without anybody being harmed, that's always a good day. So that's always my goal," he said.