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From Reading the Body Language of Animals To Crisis Negotiator

by Jeff Thompson
May 2014

Article guest-written by Kimberly Haas in Fosters magazine.

Jeff Thompson

DOVER — Heather Cote of the Strafford County Sheriff’s Office may be only 5-feet, 4-inches tall, but that doesn’t stop her from detaining men twice her size.

The pint-sized civil deputy grew up with horses and is used to reading the body language of large animals.

“People have asked me over the years if I am afraid to walk into a situation,” Cote said. “Most people are much bigger than I am. It doesn’t matter because in the heat of the moment you revert back to your training. A lot of it for me is using my mouth and talking to people.”

Cote, 35, of Lee, worked as a patrol officer for the town of Rye until August of last year. She is one of the newest additions to the staff at the sheriff’s office. Earlier this month, Sheriff David Dubois announced that Cote was appointed as a crisis negotiator with the county’s regional tactical operations unit.

“The sheriff’s office looks forward to an increased level of partnership with area law enforcement agencies as a result of this appointment,” Dubois said at that time.

With 14 years of experience in law enforcement, Cote is looking forward to training with the unit. She said working solo in Rye, as she often had to do, motivated her to get into crisis negotiation.

“I plan to bring to the table just what I learned,” Cote said of what she has to offer the team. Cote said she has had to deal with suicidal people and barricaded subjects in the past.

Most of what Cote is charged with at the sheriff’s office on a daily basis involves serving paperwork and transporting prisoners. She may have to travel to Massachusetts or Maine on any given day. In the future, she may work undercover.

It is the variety of the job, combined with a sense of purpose, that keeps Cote going every day.

“The bottom line is if I can continue to try to make a difference in a situation, I will,” Cote said.


Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School having researched the impact nonverbal communication has in conflict situations with respect to developing rapport, building trust, and displaying professionalism.

Dr. Thompson has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, (crisis and hostage) negotiation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally for a variety of audiences including police personnel, government officials, judges, attorneys, physicians, sales people, business professionals, and both graduate and undergraduate students. He has also been published in numerous professional and academic publications.

He is the co-chair of ACR's national Crisis Negotiation Section, and he is an ad-hoc reviewer for multiple academic journals. He received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Werner Institute, Creighton University School of Law.

(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions and not that of any organization.)

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