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Seen At 11: NYPD's Elite Hostage Negotiating Team Is Often The Difference Between Life And Death

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- For 40 years the NYPD's Hostage Negotiating Team has been responsible for saving thousands of lives, while coming face to face with life-and-death situations.

Former hostages recently told CBS 2's Maurice Dubois about the team's heroic actions during tense standoffs.

"They lined everybody up in the store, everybody was shoulder to shoulder, and then I seen the weapon come between us, myself and the next fella," Jerry Riccio recalled.

Riccio was a hostage during an infamous case that left one officer dead, and two others wounded.

For the NYPD, that violent ordeal changed everything, explained Lt. Jack Cambria, the team's commanding officer.

"It was 47 hours in John and Al's Sporting Goods store in Brooklyn in 1973. It was that final incident, ultimately, in a series of four that led to the department saying, we have to have detectives trained as hostage negotiators," Cambria said.

In response to that series of standoffs the NYPD formed its hostage negotiation team. That team recently invited CBS 2 inside of its special operations command vehicle, where modern technology has improved the odds of coming out on top during a tense hostage situation.

In spite of all of the technology, Lt. Cambria told CBS 2 that it all comes down to person-to-person communication.

"We are in the people business and we connect with people on a human level. What person has not experienced some turmoil or crisis in their life?" Lt. Cambria said. "What unfolded at John and Al's that January day in 1973, ultimately helped to form the basis of today's hostage negotiation techniques."

That standoff began when four men in their 20s tried to steal guns and ammunition from the store. They held a dozen people at gun point for almost two full days -- one of the longest hostage dramas in the history of the NYPD. Riccio was the store manager at the time.

"He stuck a double barrel shotgun underneath my chin, lifted me up sort of," he said.

Riccio told CBS 2 that he spent much of the ordeal planning his escape.

"I'm going to cut a hole in the wall when I get a chance," he said.

Eventually, Riccio led his fellow hostages to the roof through an unused staircase.

A series of other high-profile standoffs, including the one featured in the film "Dog Day Afternoon," led to the creation of the unit.

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