There is no doubt about a police sniper’s job: to provide the last line of defense when the lives of citizens and fellow officers are threatened. Mark V. Lonsdale, director of research firm Operational Studies, describes the sniper’s job succinctly in a white paper: “to stop with certainty the life-threatening activity of the target. This is often achieved with one well-placed, high-velocity round to the target’s head, heart or spine from a distance of 50 to 150 yards.”
Patrol Officer to Police Sniper
Police snipers start out like every officer -- graduating as rookies from the police academy. They typically spend time as patrol officers, but some jurisdictions permit officers to volunteer for special duty with special weapons and tactical squads, better known as SWAT teams. Serving on a SWAT team enables the department’s selection committee to evaluate the officer’s fitness, aptitude, mental toughness and shooting proficiency, according to Lonsdale. Although officers are trained in basic marksmanship at a police academy, a sniper will need to demonstrate proficiency with long-range rifles to be chosen for a SWAT team.
Shooting as Last Resort
The police sniper “represents the surgical arm of any special operations team, and like any other surgeon, he requires specialized training in order to excel at his profession," according to Snipercraft Inc., which provides sniper-training programs. Aside from being a sharpshooter, a police sniper needs to be able to read dynamic situations in the field, providing information to other SWAT members in real time to try to resolve crises without lethal force.
Lack of Standards
Even though police snipers have one of the most difficult jobs in law enforcement, national shooting standards for snipers don’t exist. “What constitutes a sniper varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This variance leads to an inconsistency in selection processes, training of personnel, equipment, policies and most importantly, performance,” according to the American Sniper Association in Sebring, Fla. Lonsdale voices a similar sentiment in his white paper, “The Law Enforcement Sniper: Asset or Liability.” Aside from public-safety concerns, the lack of nationwide operational training for police snipers creates potential legal liability for law-enforcement agencies, Lonsdale says.
Training and Certification
To address the need, ASA is pushing its sniper certification program as a way to establish uniform national testing standards against which an individual sniper’s performance is measured. Candidates are required to demonstrate proficiency in several key areas related to use of firearms. For example, they must post a perfect score on the “stress-fire skills” portion of ASA’s test, receive a functional fitness score no lower than 375 points out of a possible 500 points, and earn no fewer than 84 points on basic marksmanship out of a possible 120 points. Other private organizations provide targeted programs to train police snipers.
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