Archive for the ‘Sniper Operations and Tactics’ Category

Sniper Team Organization (Law Enforcement)

February 12, 2012


The use and organization of snipers/sharpshooters in the Law Enforcement arena, as you might expect, is somewhat different than that of the military sniper team. This is primarily because of the distinctly different role of the law enforcement sniper than that of their military counterparts. As is the case with most all things, the necessity of the mission dictates the adoption of the methods needed and that is the case here. The military sniper has two distinct missions, first: locate and engage key select targets and targets of opportunity and second: to provide battlefield intelligence to commanding officers. The law enforcement sniper generally has two similar major responsibilities as well. They are first: Acquire and communicate intelligence data from the crisis site to the incident commander, and second: to deliver precision incapacitating fire at positively identified hostile targets when give proper authority. The missions are different, yet similar, and the priority is reversed. There is also a stronger emphasis placed on instant incapacitating fire due to the necessary safety of innocent lives.

While the law enforcement sniper is concerned about cover and concealment, the focus on mastery of concealment is not as high of a priority as the military sniper and while the military sniper focuses on center mass killing shots at maximum range, in order to enhance their ballistic advantage over the enemy, the Law Enforcement sniper is focused on delivering an instant incapacitating shot to prevent any loss of innocent lives. These differences dictate a different organization for Law Enforcement sniper teams than the military. The FBI purposely refers to their snipers as “Observer/Snipers” with “observer” being listed first because of the use of their snipers in the critical role of observer even more than they actually take the shot. The observing role of the sniper is as, or even more, critical than the sniping role. With some of these differences and concepts of law enforcement snipers understood, we can get into some ideas about sniper team organization.

Basic Organization Ideas

For this discussion we will refer to the sniper the same as the FBI does, an Observer/Sniper, or O/S for short. Like the military, the generally accepted practice is to have two man O/S teams where you have two qualified shooters on a team switching roles every 30 minutes or so during the deployment. This would certainly be the ideal scenario as it allows the advantage of having a fresh shooter on the rifle every 30 minutes and provides an additional set of trained eyes scanning the crises scene. This arrangement also provides redundant confirmation of orders and provides mutual support for when the shot is required to be taken. But as a department or agency starts to consider exactly what is required to properly train two man teams and then considers the number of teams it may require to provide 360 degree coverage of an incident area, the man power alone may be too great to be feasible for a majority of the smaller Law Enforcement agencies that do not have a full time SWAT or Emergency Response Team. The cost of training the required number of two man O/S teams can also be a burden that many departments cannot afford. In cases like this there are some potential alternatives as well.

It is fairly common for some O/S’s to be deployed individually as a one man team without a second team member and this may work for the initial call out when things are unclear and eyes need to immediately get on the crises area, but once the incident starts to unfold and information starts to come in, it is perhaps unwise to leave an O/S out on their own. Even if the initial deployment consists of a two man team, they should be rotated out fairly early, usually after about 2 hours if possible, as the initial team is usually not as well prepared for long term deployment as the follow O/S teams will be. But getting back to the concept of single man teams, while it may be acceptable to deploy single man teams immediately to help stabilize the scene, they should be provided support as soon as possible. But you may say this does not help the small agencies with their man power and training restrictions. Some departments also use non sniper trained officers as observers, combining them with a trained O/S. This can work but it is recommended that all the department officers should be given some basic instruction in observation, communication, and methods used by O/S teams. This method of using normal uniformed officers as observers can introduce some risk and it does not provide relief for the O/S behind the rifle, but it is an option that can work. It is recommended that basic training be provided and that if possible, the O/S be rotated out more frequently than the normal 4-6 hours for a team.

A method the FBI HRT uses to enhance the flexibility of the teams is that their entire HRT team is trained as entry team members, and then half of the team is additionally trained to be an O/S. It is very rare that the full complement of O/S teams are utilized on a single call out but as you can see this gives extreme flexibility to handle just about any type of incident. If they need more entry teams, they have them, if they need more O/S teams, they have them. The down side to this method is that it may be difficult to keep both entry team skills and O/S skills up to the required standards, especially if it is not a full time team. It does also require detailed organization to allow the easy deployment of teams in a flexible manner. But if possible, and with dedicated team members perhaps willing to give of their time, this could be a method that works for smaller response teams as well.

The O/S teams are considered a maneuver element and fall under the control of the incident commander. When at a scene there should immediately be a sniper Tactical Operations Center (TOC) setup that the commander can utilize. Typically the sniper TOC is the means of information gathering and control in the early stages of a crisis because the O/S teams are providing the majority of the information. As the incident progresses the commander may take a less active role in the sniper TOC depending on how the situation develops. Part of the organization of the sniper TOC typically includes a trained O/S that is aware of O/S capabilities and limitations and who understands methods, tactics and strategies of the O/S teams combined with the entry teams. This organization and deployment strategy for the TOC needs to be clearly defined and trained on a routine basis to insure smooth deployment during a call out. It may sound routine or boring, but it is very important.

Responsibilities and Duties

In the introduction we talked about the two main missions of the Law Enforcement sniper, to provide intelligence for the incident commander and to provide instant incapacitating shots on positively identified hostile targets. But let us take a bit of time to talk more about the specific duties of the O/S teams during a crises incident.

According to the FBI there are eight main duties of the O/S teams during a deployment, or “call out”.

  1. O/S teams are primarily responsible for observation and intelligence gathering
  2. O/S teams are responsible for providing an accurate shot at a positively identified target. Positively identifying the target is a requirement for law enforcement engagements.
  3. O/S teams will provide guidance, control and protection to the entry team from phase line yellow to and at the objective. They can also initiate the compromise action if the situation dictates.
  4. O/S teams will ensure 360 degree observation of the objective
  5. O/S teams will triangulate on the crisis site and the subjects. Observation and triangulation positions will be dictated by the situation. 360 degree coverage can be achieved with just two teams, but observation will be restricted.
  6. In times where 360 degree coverage is not possible or needed, the modified “L” will be used
  7. All O/S teams will attempt to gain a high position
  8. All O/S teams will maintain positive communications with each other and the TOC.

As you can see most of the above eight duties involve specific actions that support the two main missions of the O/S team, especially the act of observation and intelligence gathering. The information provided by the O/S team to the TOC and incident commander is critical to the overall decision making process and hopefully successful resolution of the situation. With the high importance of this reported information it should take a major part in all training conducted by the O/S team. During training, and obviously during deployment, some of the key elements to focus on in terms of intelligence gathering would consist of analyzing the crisis site, also known as a site survey, locating and identifying all of the people involved, identifying weapons and explosives, developing group and individual profiles, and identifying avenues of approach and regress with accompanying field sketch and/or photos. Standard Operation Procedures (SOP) need to be established for all the O/S teams to use and should be clear and concise and regularly reviewed and utilized in training. The SOP should include everything from coding an objective to standard rotation schedules, communication procedures, ammunition selection etc. There are many details to be outlined and covered in a properly prepared SOP.

As part of the intelligence and information gathering there are a few areas that are traditional weaknesses that should be emphasized in training to help the teams provide quality intelligence. Failing to report what is seen in full detail is a common problem as is the failure to accurately report the intensity of the observed activities. Providing realistic training scenarios can go a long way to help provide these required skills, especially if training time is limited. Remember that the intelligence gathering portion of the O/S mission occupies a vast majority of the O/S team’s deployment time and responsibilities. During this observation training, insure that the teams are not relying too much on “magnification” to try and get in too close to the details of what is happening. Insure the entire scenario as a whole is being properly observed.

Due to the vast variety of scenarios that may be encountered, the roles of the O/S teams can and need to be flexible. Since murphy’s laws of combat seem to have as firm a grip on Law Enforcement deployments as it does military deployments, it is good to be prepared for anything and be able to quickly adapt to the all the “other” anythings the teams did not prepare for. Because things are never what you prepare for, the O/S team needs to gather some critical bits of information from the commander prior to deploying at an incident. A quick list of the basics needed would include:

  • The desired mission of the O/S Team
  • Necessary equipment and weapons, as determined by the above mission
  • Critical times such as departure and return
  • Initial Positions, which are subject to change as the O/S team deploys
  • Location of other O/S teams, assault teams, utility and support teams, etc.
  • Threat assessments that impact the O/S teams
  • Reporting codes and formats
  • Radio frequencies for O/S teams, TOC, assault teams, etc.

Again, solid realistic training will help prepare for the initial deployment phase as this tends to be the most convoluted and unclear portion of the deployment. Things tend to settle down a bit once certain things become known. But as you can see, the roles of the O/S teams are critical even if the shot, or Sniper Resolution, is not implemented. The more that is prepared for ahead of time, the better. Realistic training conducted with all the other teams that comprise the response force and also developing a detailed and complete SOP will go a long way to help provide a successful deployment.

Sniper Resolution

While intelligence gathering is the primary role of the O/S teams in Law Enforcement deployments, there does come the time when the conflict needs to be resolved with a single well placed shot by the sniper. While the majority of the time spent on call outs is intelligence gathering, the majority of the training tends to be focused on the “Sniper Resolution” to a conflict, and this is done with some good reasoning. When the time comes that innocents are in peril and the incident commander authorizes the use of deadly force, many of those times it has to be resolved by the sniper. Because the target is small and the cost of failure so great, the O/S needs to be fully trained and prepared to take the shot. Ideally two O/S teams at different positions are assigned to each target, this arrangement improves the probability that a clear neutralizing shot can be taken “on command”.

The actual method of engagement, or initiation of the shot, can be done in several different ways. Sniper initiated, command (or commander) initiated, assaulter initiated emergency assault, compromised, and probably a few others I’m failing to remember. Again, SOP should be adopted as to the verbiage and methods of performing the engagement and each of these must be practiced during training. For O/S teams it can be argued that no round fired at the range should be done without using one of the engagement methods mentioned. Training for stimulus response, much like an athlete, will increase performance when everything is on the line and the shot must count. If the manpower resources are not available, a simple solution to practice command fire would be to create some voice recordings of the different execute commands give in different cadence and burn them to a CD, each its own track, and then bring a portable CD player or IPod, etc to the range and put the tracks on random selection and practice shooting on command. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but train like it is real.

Final Thoughts

The law enforcement O/S team is not the same as a military sniper team, but the cohesiveness is perhaps even more critical between the O/S team and the rest of the maneuver and command elements of the emergency response team. As such, the more practice with those other elements, the better. Developing a thorough SOP cannot be overstated as well. The teams need to focus as much on the intelligence gathering as well as the shooting aspects and field craft also plays a role. But the coordination is perhaps the most fundamental of the operational skills. Even part time teams, perhaps even more so, need to devote training time to this coordination and they will need to rely even more heavily on SOPs, so have them flushed out and complete. These things can all combine to help produce a highly effective and flexible Observer/Sniper team.