The position of police sniper is one of the most unique and difficult in all of law enforcement. It carries with it high expectations and great responsibility. Yet, many agencies put little thought into setting a proper foundation for an effective sniper program.
To build an effective sniper program, you have to achieve three goals: You have to establish a clear mission statement, set operational policies, and implement procedures for selecting and training qualified personnel.
Long gone are the days when the team sniper could be appointed because he was too old, fat, or lazy to do entry work. Nor can he simply be the guy on the team who has his own rifle and does a little hunting. Standards and criteria need to be determined, and a thorough and consistent selection process must be followed in order to choose the best candidate.
The process of finding the right sniper candidate begins with knowing what to look for. A tactical team leader who is looking for a sniper needs to know what characteristics he should be seeking and why these characteristics are critical to the sniper’s execution of his duties.
All sniper candidates should have prior police and SWAT training and experience. The reasons for this prerequisite are obvious. Time on the job helps a sniper understand the responsibilities of a police officer in a tactical situation, and SWAT training and experience give the candidate an inside-out perspective of the planning and execution of tactical operations.
Knowing what the team is doing, and why, will help the sniper understand his role. He will know from experience the planning and execution of a tactical operation. And he will realize that, as a sniper, his most important missions are to provide lethal cover and operational intelligence for his teammates.
Of course, any officer with a scope or binoculars and a good position could provide basic intelligence for a SWAT team. But it takes an experienced SWAT officer to know what kinds of information will help the team achieve its mission. By knowing the tactics of his fellow tactical officers, a good sniper can anticipate their moves and needs. No amount of schooling can replace this experience.
But that doesn’t mean that a SWAT commander should automatically make the most experienced officer into a sniper. A sniper candidate must be a volunteer.
Being a sniper requires extraordinary discipline and a dedication to the art. This is a job that is demanding, both physically and emotionally, and it requires skills that aren’t easily attained and can quickly diminish without practice. Only an individual who actively wants the position of sniper will do well at it.
Excellent physical condition is also critical to the success of a sniper. In callout deployments, the sniper is expected to be totally self-sufficient and self-contained. All of the equipment he needs has to be transported to his hide by him. Walking, climbing, and crawling during the execution of as talk while carrying an extra 30 or 40pounds of gear can be exhausting.
And the stalk is only the beginning of the sniper’s physical mission. Once in position, he must still establish a hide and work from it, providing information and lethal cover for the duration of the callout, often without relief. For hours, or perhaps days, he is expected to perform at a heightened state of alertness. This kind of recovery, endurance, and stamina requires a physically fit officer.