St. John’s professor immortalized in award-winning documentary

October 28, 2020

A new documentary film, Hold your firewhich chronicles the groundbreaking research and life’s work of Harvey Schlossberg, Ph.D., a veteran New York Police Department (NYPD) psychologist and longtime and recently retired St. John’s University professor, has recently received the second annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Award for Film.

The film was chosen from 151 submissions by a panel of scholars and expert filmmakers and won a $200,000 finishing grant for the film’s director, Emmy-nominated screenwriter and director Stefan Forbes. The award was presented in a virtual ceremony held remotely from Washington, DC, featuring the Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, Ph.D.and others in a celebration of the power of storytelling and collective history.

Speaking at the ceremony, American filmmaker Ken Burns said:Hold your fire is an extraordinary examination of policing in America. As we find ourselves re-examining the relationship between the police and communities of color, this film resurfaces at a critical moment in that history.

Dr. Schlossberg, who taught at St. John’s for 27 years, is a former NYPD officer, clinical psychologist and Freudian psychoanalyst, and the founder of modern crisis negotiation.

He founded the NYPD’s Psychological Services Department and established the unit’s behavioral, emotional, and cognitive framework that still exists today and has been replicated around the world.

“I am both humbled and proud of the documentary and am confident that when completed, it will serve as an important educational tool that will continue what we began at the NYPD nearly 50 years ago,” said Dr. Schlossberg.

Half a century ago, the need for better hostage negotiation became apparent after a series of high-profile hostage events in the early 1970s, including the Attica prison uprising; the August 1972 botched bank robbery in Brooklyn, NY, in which the police response was improvised at the scene and later inspired the Al Pacino film, dog afternoon; and the tragic terrorist attack of the same year at the Munich Olympics.

Hold your fire chronicles the infamous 1973 hostage siege of a Brooklyn sporting goods store that would become the longest hostage siege in NYPD history. After a botched robbery, a violent shootout and the murder of an NYPD officer, 11 people were held hostage by four men from January 19 to 21, with the gunmen threatening to hold until death.

Dr. Schlossberg, who was a patrolman at the time known to his colleagues in the department for having obtained a doctorate. in psychology, spent 14 hours trying to assess the psychology of the gunmen and advising senior police officials on whether to wait out the situation or use force to storm the store. Eventually, the situation was resolved peacefully when the gunmen surrendered.

In addition to his distinguished career in law enforcement, Dr. Schlossberg is the author of the book Psychologist with a gun and pioneering methods of hostage negotiation and crisis de-escalation. He has trained over 70,000 crisis negotiators worldwide and his innovative theories have been adopted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies. He worked on nearly every high-profile investigation, including the “Son of Sam” case that terrorized New York in the summer of 1977.

Known for taking notes but not necessarily organizing them, Dr. Schlossberg plans to donate his records to the University archives in the hope that future generations of psychology students and law enforcement professionals will learn from his research.

In a statement, Dr. Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, said: “Ken and I were both impressed with this documentary. Hold your fire is a gripping and powerful look at a little-known moment in history that has profound implications for how we understand policing today.

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