Online Exclusive

The Role of the Police Sniper

As the Police Sniper it is my responsibility to let my peers and supervisors know my capabilities and limitations. My excuses must be little to none and my standard must be higher than the rest. That is my mentality, my way and direction. If I am standing still, then I am moving backwards. The Police Sniper should be one of the best members of your team.      

Military and Police Sniper selection

Let’s just get this out front and center: there are differences between Military and Police snipers. Experts have spent hours discussing those differences, but let’s stick to the matter at hand. The selection to be a sniper is somewhat different between the two. In the Military world, snipers are seen in a different light. They are usually the best trained in fundamentals of precision marksmanship and fieldcraft. They have to ascend up the ladder on the assault team to be in this position. It is not given to them. They have to earn it through demonstrating proficiency over and over. Being a military sniper is quite the honor and is not taking lightly.

What is your Sniper Standard?

Things can be different for the Police Sniper. As I cannot speak specifically to which SWAT teams encounter this, I will speak in general terms. I have seen and heard of snipers being placed in this valuable position because they could not ‘cut it’ on the entry side. So let me make sure I understand this: the member of the SWAT team that does not demonstrate good enough proficiency in decision making, keeping composure under stress and sufficient weapons skills could be placed in a sniper position? You know how it goes. They are not quite as sharp as we would like as an assaulter, so let’s give them one of the most powerful weapon systems on the SWAT team and let them be behind everyone else on tactical operations.  Does anyone else see the lack of logic in this?  Don’t believe it does not occur, because it does.  

Who is at fault? The SWAT chain of command, their peers or the individual themselves. There is no room for a weak performing officer on the SWAT team, much less with a precision rifle. Our problem sometimes is poor documentation combined with many other factors. An entire article or two could be devoted to the selection process for team members, but I will save that for another day.

You have an individual who is good people, passed the minimum requirements and got onto the team. You have trained them up but they just are not getting it like they should. They are put through warrant service, barricaded person and hostage rescue training. Their performance is just average and we would rather place them in a less critical role on operations. How about giving them to the sniper team leader? And that is how it begins; an individual who is not ‘good enough’ for entry work is ‘dumped’ onto the sniper corps. The process is then repeated and repeated until it is full of individuals. How are the snipers supposed to change the mentality and direction if this process continues? Is being a SWAT Sniper any less important than any other specialty on the team? No. Then why is it allowed to occur?

Does it require a costly mistake for things to change? Are we going to continue to roll the dice on operations and hope for the best? Where is the chain of command when training is taking place? Do they make a point to come out and observe the folks they are ultimately responsible for? Is there really such an excuse as ‘plausible deniability’?

I don’t want to be a door kicker anymore

Onto the next part of why your sniper teams could be better. The older, senior member of the team who is just not quite ready to leave but would like a reduced or perceived easier role and views the role of the police sniper as just that.  Hey, those guys go out and get to shoot off their belly and get a little extra trigger time. I think I will slide right over and take a position. Physically, I am not in my prime anymore, but I still can shoot straight. I don’t need to be in great shape, because all they do is walk and shoot off their belly. I can come down to their standards.

Actually, it should be the opposite. You should strive to have higher performance standards than the rest of the team. Not only physical fitness, but the sniper should excel at all weapon systems (pistol, carbine, precision rifle). To make the excuse that I am good at two out of three is not good enough.

Raising the standard   

The standard of the Police Sniper has been elevated by many of my peers across the country. There are many excellent, motivated SWAT snipers out there who train themselves and their peers to high standards. They get it. The Police Sniper is just not where you slide the weak operator over or the operator who is getting ready to retire on duty from the team. Our standard must be higher because more is given to us and more should be required of us. Many snipers do not sell themselves very well in their team as to their capabilities to their supervisors and peers. If the typical mom and pop barricaded person is all you do as a sniper, you are behind the curve and miss the point. Maybe you just don’t know any better.

There are many excellent sniper instructors out there. Seek outside training and get better. If the training in your team has not elevated your game, seek outside training. If you have to pay out of pocket because the team/agency has no money, do it. You have no one else to blame for the level of your sniper team training and performance if you do not seek to improve yourself and your peers. Lead and don’t wait for someone else to do it. 

Moving forward

Don’t get me wrong. From when I began as a Police Sniper fifteen years ago to now, I’ve seen many changes for the better. Many have looked for ways to better themselves and their team, but we still have many in the sniper community who don’t get it or do not know any better. As I look to the future, the Police Sniper will be even more of a valuable asset in the fight against terror. Let’s start raising our game now and not when the crisis is here. Train hard like your family's lives depend on it.