Beyond the physical demands of the job, there’s another reason why a sniper candidate should be fit. His fitness level speaks to his sense of self-discipline and commitment. A physically fit officer understands the need to work above and beyond the norm to maintain a standard of performance. And if he will work that hard to keep his body in shape, he can be expected to show the same level of commitment to being a police sniper.
Getting Inside Their Heads
Another characteristic of the police sniper that cannot be overemphasized is that he must be emotionally mature and stable. Obviously, this is not a job for a person prone to extremes in emotion or mood swings.
A good SWAT sniper needs to be very balanced. He has to be able to handle extremely stressful situations as routine. The responsibility placed on him is immense, and the safety of his team, hostages, and every other involved party could very well hinge on what he sees, says, and does under pressure. A good police sniper needs to recognize this and be able to deal with it.
Mental health and the ability to thrive under pressure are not the only reasons that a SWAT sniper has to have a good head on his shoulders. He has to be able to think fast on his feet, and he has to be adaptable and willing to learn.
The best SWAT sniper candidate is disciplined and driven, with a thirst for knowledge, which will motivate him to become a perpetual student of his art. He will be called upon to learn a wide variety of integrated skills, and long hours of independent study and practice will be required to supplement his formal training. His education cannot be limited to a day or two a month set aside for team training. Sniping is as much cerebral as it is physical.
A sniper also needs to be meticulous, and he needs a keen eye for detail. The primary function of the sniper is to gather and report information. A trained observer is expected to notice the tiniest details in a tactical environment. By paying attention to the smallest of details, he will notice the smallest of changes and that could mean the difference between life and death during a critical incident.
And a sniper needs to be articulate. This is an often overlooked trait, but it’s of great importance. Police snipers serve primarily as the eyes and ears of their tactical teams, and a sniper must be able to clearly and concisely report what he sees.
Often, a sniper must paint a word picture that allows personnel at the command post to see through his eyes. But he is not just a field reporter to the incident commanders. He’s also something of a guardian angel watching over his team. Through his optics, the sniper may see things that team members in close proximity to the target may not, and he has to be able to clearly explain to every member of his team exactly what is happening in his scope.
Communication skills also come in handy when the callout is over. After a critical incident, especially where shots have been fired, the sniper must be as proficient with his pen as he is with his rifle. The media, public, attorneys, judges, juries, civilian review boards, Internal Affairs, and countless others are going to read his reports. They are going to judge the correctness and legality of his actions based, at least in part, on what he writes.