Forty years ago on August 22, 1972, a bank robbery at a Chase bank in Gravesend, Brooklyn changed the way the NYPD did business in hostage situations...and spawned an Oscar-winning movie starring Al Pacino.
The real-life robber, John Wojtowicz, desperately needed money--so he could get his "wife" a sex change operation. His lover was a man named Ernest, who wanted to be a female. Wojtowicz's accomplice, Sal Naturale, was only 18 years old and would end up dead, by the time the 13-hour drama was over.
"Everybody was going crazy, people were all over the place," recalled Pino Maligioglio, who talked to us at the site on Avenue "P" and East 3rd Street, where the robbery went down just before bank "closing time" of 3 pm, on August 22, 1972. Maligioglio still lives near the border of Gravesend and Midwood. He added, "At the time, this was crazy! What was a sex change operation?"
Back in the old days, "They would give hostage takers a certain amount of time to surrender, and if not, they'd be met with tactical force," said Lt. Jack Cambria, the current commander of the Hostage Negotiation Team at One Police Plaza.
Dr. Harvey Schlossberg, now a professor at St. John's University, was a young traffic cop in 1972, who happened to have a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Not long after the infamous bank robbery, he was called upon to create guidelines for hostage situations.
"This event was so big, because it spilled out into the street," Schlossberg recalled to PIX 11. The former cop pointed out New York was still reeling from the Attica prison riots of 1971, which left dozens of corrections officers and prisoners dead. At one point in the film,"Dog Day Afternoon"--which was based on the Chase robbery--Al Pacino, as the robber, taunts police officers and detectives on Avenue "P"--chanting "Attica" over and over, revving up the assembled crowd.
The FBI joined forces with the NYPD to convince the two bank robbers that a getaway plane would be waiting for them at Kennedy Airport in Queens. When the robbers got to JFK with the hostages, Sal Naturale was shot dead by the FBI, but the hostages were saved.
A month after the Chase stand-off, 11 Israeli athletes were killed at the Munich Olympics, and the NYPD accelerated its efforts to get hostage negotiation guidelines in place. In early 1973, Officer Stephen Gilroy was killed during a robbery at Brooklyn's Al and John's Sporting Goods store, where 12 people were taken hostage. The stand-off continued 47 hours, nearly two days, and the hostages managed to escape. Shortly afterwards, the NYPD Hostage Negotiation Team was born, co-founded by Schlossberg and NYPD Captain Frank Bolz.
"If they don't really want to die, they're looking for a way out," said Schlossberg of the people in crisis who take hostages. "If you tell him you're giving him something, he'll go along with you."
Schlossberg said when a hostage situation starts, "Everyone is fired up." The goal is to slow things down
and get the other person to keep talking. "We've had people trade hostages for a cup of coffee or a glass of milk," Schlossberg said.
Schlossberg has trained thousands of officers from around the country--and around the world--in hostage negotiation. The present-day NYPD Hostage Negotiation Team has one hundred experienced detectives on call, led by Lt. Cambria. They get about 35 calls a month, many of them domestic incidents, suicide threats, or people barricading themselves at a location, because they don't want to be arrested.
In 2006, Lt. Cambria told PIX the U.S. Militaryasked for training at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba--where terrorism suspects are held in detention. A group of prisoners had tried taking some officers hostage, and the situation was defused by a detective from the NYPD Hostage Negotiation Team, who had been activated for military duty. "We went for one week and trained their officers for one week," Lt. Cambria told PIX.
Lt. Cambria said it's crucial that his team members can show a "hostage-taker" they have empathy for his or her plight. "More important than talking is listening," Lt. Cambria told PIX. "You have to really demonstrate you care. We have a tremendously high success rate."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times