In his report, the sniper must be able to transport his readers into his hide with him. The reader must be able to clearly see what the sniper saw, think what the sniper thought, and as a result, agree with what the sniper did. An officer who routinely writes poor or incomplete reports probably is not a good sniper candidate.
Putting it Together
There’s another aspect to the sniper’s mental makeup that is also critical but much more difficult to explain. I like to call it non-linear thinking.
Non-linear thinking is a blend of creativity, imagination, common sense, and reasoning, and it’s critical to the success of a SWAT sniper. Tactical situations are typically fluid, changing from minute to minute. In such an environment, abstract thinking is required to solve problems and plan strategies in a constantly changing scenario.
Consequently, a sniper needs to be able to assimilate data, put together disassociated scraps of information gathered from various sources, fill in the blanks, and draw correct conclusions. It’s this talent that gives the sniper the ability to act independently, without the need for someone to make every decision for him. This will come in handy in every phase of a tactical operation, from planning a stalk to executing a shot.
The Easiest Part
You’ll notice that I’ve discussed what’s required of a good SWAT sniper candidate for more than a thousand words now, and I haven’t mentioned shooting talent. The reason for this is quite simple. Contrary to popular belief, it takes much more than rifle skills to be a successful sniper.
Don’t get me wrong. Good marksmanship is, of course, a plus in a sniper candidate, but it’s not a necessary prerequisite.
Shooting is a mechanical act, an acquired motor skill. A student with the ability and desire to learn can be taught the fundamentals that will allow him to be an accomplished rifle shooter. The same holds true for field craft skills. In short, your best sniper candidate may not be your best shot or your best woodsman.
We’ve discussed all the aspects of a sniper that makes him such an important asset in a critical incident. He’s fast, agile, fit, keen-sighted, smart, observant, and he can analyze a situation and act on it without being told what to do.
But there’s one other thing that a sniper candidate has to bring to the job: the ability and willingness to kill.
Talking about this aspect of sniper duty makes some administrators squirm. But the bottom line is that a sniper maybe required to kill. Of course, any police officer may have to kill in the line of duty, but for snipers it’s different.
Most of us were taught from a very young age that it is wrong to kill another human being. Then in the police academy, we were slowly conditioned to accept that, under some circumstances, we might have to use deadly force. To reinforce that conditioning, we were sent to the shooting range and told, “When the target turns and faces, you will draw, and fire two rounds.”This, we learned, was to be our response to a life-threatening situation.
But the police sniper is faced with a different situation. In most cases, he sits in a hide, undetected by his potential target. From this position of relative safety, the sniper observes his target, perhaps for hours, creating a unique level of intimacy between the target and the sniper. Then if the situation dictates, the sniper will put his crosshairs on this individual and put a bullet between his or her eyes.
Not everyone is capable of the emotional detachment necessary to kill another human being in such a premeditated fashion. The ability and willingness to do so requires the sniper to work through a number of ethical, legal, and moral issues. Still, even in the face of extreme danger, some people can’t kill. And they should never be police sniper candidates.
The only person who can provide an answer to the question, “Will you kill?”is the sniper candidate himself. Self-examination and honesty now are of the utmost importance. Looking through your scope at a living target, with the lives of others in the balance, is not the time to finally admit to yourself that the answer is, “No, I can’t do it.”