Many police hierarchies operate under the erroneous assumption that their organizations don't need sniper units. Normally, this position is adopted as a result of not understanding the many roles snipers units can perform. The preponderance of police supervisors and officers believe that the only role snipers play is the neutralization of a perpetrator through the mechanics of a single-precision rifle shot. These perceptions are correct, however, a sniper's role extends far beyond the placement of a precision shot.
Though sniper duties are specialized, they are also flexible and adaptable to a variety of valuable tactical roles.
Engaging targets of opportunity involves snipers positioned in an area that is known to be occupied by a perpetrator. These snipers are given the order to fire on the perpetrator the moment he moves into the snipers' field of fire. This situation normally evolves after all other efforts (talk, smoke, chemical agents, etc.) have failed to resolve the situation.
Targets of opportunity orders should be tightly controlled, and only applied under the most exigent of circumstances following all department use-of-force policy guidelines.
Perimeter defense requires the sniper to supplement cordon forces by performing the duties of protecting the inner and outer perimeters. Snipers can provide cover fire focused on potential avenues of approach or escape from a distance. Just the knowledge or belief that snipers are on the perimeter may prevent the perpetrator from trying to escape.
Resolving hostage situations requires the sniper to eliminate the perpetrator during a crisis involving hostages. Long-range (beyond the traditional distances of handguns, shotguns and carbines), accurate weapons fire may be the only practical way to end this type of situation.
Counter sniper operations are best performed by officers trained in sniper operations. Snipers know what their adversary is thinking in terms of tactics and can generally predict likely firing positions, avenues of approach, avenues of escape, desirable targets, etc. Counter sniper operations consist of a deadly game of "cat and mouse" which should only be played by equals. An untrained officer trying to "ferret out" a trained or even a novice sniper will most likely be killed.
Snipers are useful for providing fire from positions of relative safety. Since snipers can locate and eliminate perpetrators from a distance, they can provide protective fire for responding forces, tactical teams, wounded officers, released hostages, hostage negotiators, delivery personnel, medical personnel, fire department personnel, police helicopters, and any other authorized entity involved in the tactical operation.
Information collection through reconnaissance efforts is probably the sniper's main role. Police supervisors unfamiliar with sniper capabilities often overlook this extremely valuable source of tactical information. Snipers are often among the first tactical officers to reach the scene and are normally located in positions from which they can collect information concerning the perpetrator, target area, and adjacent tactical arena.
Snipers may be tasked with performing certain support functions or asked to gather the following elements of essential information:
1. Identify reconnaissance routes, ingress and egress routes which provide covered and concealed routes to and from the target area, and high-speed of essential information.
2. Identify observation points that supervisors and officers can use to survey the tactical arena without being compromised (discovered) and estimate the amount of the tactical arena the perpetrator can see from his position.
3. Take still photographs or video of the target area, adjacent tactical arena, and hostages or perpetrators.
4. Specify resting points or rally points, areas where tactical teams can take advantage of cover and concealment while resting, re-grouping, or discussing conduct of operation changes during a lengthy operation.
5. Identify danger areas as possibly under adversary observation or field of fire.
6. Evaluate environmental, safety and health considerations. These considerations may make a tactical problem worse, if they are ignored. For example, an area inside an industrial building may contain a volatile substance that, if shot, may cause mass contamination, fire or explosion.
7. Establish evacuation routes so that snipers can provide cover fire for retreating officers or for hostage control, once release is negotiated.