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We Are The 28 - Off The Ledge: Crisis Negotiator Justine Harris

April 11, 2020 9:25 AM

During the Act 10 protests of 2011, crisis negotiator Justine Harris was called to the State Capitol for a man on a ledge, threatening to jump. In front of a sizeable crowd, she, fellow negotiator Julia Helbach, and Capitol Police joined efforts to convince the man to move to safety. "We had just gotten to the point where he was listening," Detective Harris recalls. Then a member of the crowd started shouting, saying that police were lying and the man should not trust them. Despite the interjection, Detective Harris was able to successfully keep the man talking and buy time, until Capitol Police could sweep in and bring the man off the ledge.

The remarkable part is, that is only one part of Justine Harris's workload at MPD. She is assigned currently to the Violent Crime Unit, investigating homicides, attempted homicides, and pattern violent crimes. Prior to being a detective, Justine worked west patrol and then was Neighborhood Officer for Bettys Lane, Theresa Terrace and Hammersley Road. Justine's ties to the neighborhood ran deep; one family often struggled with affording school supplies and winter coats. Justine worked closely with the children's school and family to meet those needs.

Detective Harris calls her transition to MPD a "mid-life career switch." She previously taught middle school and high school English in St Louis, oversaw youth programming at Briarpatch, and worked for United Way. Justine was hired into the 2005 MPD Academy, inspired to apply after meeting some Madison Police Officers who served on various boards. Despite breaking her leg the week before the Academy started – and having two grade school aged boys – Justine completed the Academy. Fifteen years later, she's a detective with an always-present cell phone: her 7 year old son may call, or an incident might occur in which she is needed to negotiate. Detective Harris is prepared for both. 


Justine Harris


The Madison Police Department's Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) is comprised of three elements, or platoons: Tactical, Sniper, and the Crisis Negotiations Team (CNT).  While each component is critical in fulfilling the SWAT Mission ("to safely resolve high-risk situations through the professional utilization of specialized equipment, negotiation and tactics"), CNT is especially important, as a subset of that mission is that "SWAT will seek to resolve incidents through negotiation whenever possible". 

Members of CNT therefore respond to the same calls that the SWAT Tactical and Sniper elements respond to – hostage situations, barricaded persons, weapon offenses, etc.  CNT also staffs Command Posts on all high-risk warrant services done by SWAT.  Currently, the CNT group is comprised of one Lieutenant, one Sergeant, and ten Crisis Negotiators.  The Negotiators are comprised of Officers and Detectives, and they have a myriad of backgrounds. 

The baseline training all MPD Crisis Negotiators attend is the FBI Basic Crisis Negotiation Course, which is a weeklong training.  Many of our Negotiators though attend additional outside training, and the entire cadre meets as a team to train together four times a year.  The entire SWAT group has "full team" trainings approximately four days a year as well.  CNT (as is all of SWAT) is always "on-call", and their level of dedication to the citizens of Madison is commendable.

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