St. John’s Professor Immortalized in Award-Winning Documentary

October 28, 2020

A new documentary film, Hold Your Fire, which chronicles the groundbreaking research and life work of Harvey Schlossberg, Ph.D., a veteran New York City Police Department (NYPD) psychologist—and a long-serving and recently retired professor at St. John’s University—was recently awarded the second annual Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film.

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

During the ceremony, American filmmaker Ken Burns remarked: “Hold Your Fire is an extraordinary examination of policing in America. As we find ourselves in the midst of reexamining the relationship between police and communities of color, this film resurfaces a critical moment in that history.”

Dr. Schlossberg, who taught at St. John’s for 27 years, is a former NYPD officer, a 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 globe.

“I am both humbled and proud of the documentary and am confident that, once completed, it will serve as an important teaching tool that will continue what we started at the NYPD almost 50 years ago,” reflected Dr. Schlossberg.

A half-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 Brooklyn, NY, bank robbery in which the police response was improvised at the scene and that later inspired the Al Pacino movie, Dog Day Afternoon; and the tragic terrorist attack that same year at the Munich Olympics.

Hold Your Fire recounts the infamous 1973 hostage siege at a sporting goods store in Brooklyn that would become the longest hostage siege in NYPD history. After a botched robbery, a violent gun battle, and the murder of an NYPD officer, 11 people were held hostage by four men lasting from January 19 to 21, with the gunmen threatening to hold out until death.

Dr. Schlossberg, who was a patrolman at the time known by his department colleagues for earning a Ph.D. in Psychology, spent 14 hours trying to assess the psychology of the gunmen and counseling the top-ranked police officials about whether to wait out the situation or use force to storm the store. Eventually, the situation was peacefully resolved when the gunmen surrendered.

In addition to his distinguished law enforcement career, Dr. Schlossberg authored the book Psychologist with a Gun and pioneered methods of hostage negotiation and crisis de-escalation. He trained more than 70,000 crisis negotiators globally and his innovative theories were adopted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies. He worked on almost every high-profile investigation, including the “Son of Sam” case that terrorized New York City during the summer of 1977.

Known for keeping notes but not necessarily organizing them, Dr. Schlossberg is planning to donate his files to the University Archives in the hopes 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 awed by this documentary. Hold Your Fire is a searing and powerful look into a little-known moment in history that has profound repercussions for how we understand policing today.”