Police Sniper Training

By Garth Mitchel and Carl Simms

Preparation of a sniper should begin before he responds to a call-out.

The decision is made by your command staff to end the hostile situation that started several hours ago and you have been behind your rifle looking through the scope observing, gathering information, and relaying the information back to the command post. With the knowledge that you have been through training within your own department to include shoot/don’t shoot scenarios, mock call-outs, and live-fire exercises, you are prepared. You want the call-out to be a success, without any problems or contradictions from your department, peers, and especially past and present members of the specialized unit of which you have worked so hard to be apart.

Learning to be proficient in your duties as a police sniper is important for you and your department. Training is an important aspect of being a qualified sniper. This can be achieved by getting the proper qualified training from a reputable organization that can teach you the necessary skills to become a proficient police sniper. The training organization that you select should be able to back you up in court with professional and expert testimony. This may become necessary if a situation occurs where you had to make that important one shot, to end a dangerous life-threatening situation.

In almost every police department around the United States, there is an officer who has served in the military. This is a plus for the police department, because the officer has received some of the best training and discipline in the world. However, while there are similarities between police tactical operations and military operations, specialized law enforcement training is essential.

You are on your SWAT team, and want to become the best you can, in order to handle different types of life threatening situations that deal with public safety. You should have the best-specialized training available to perform your required tasks. Where do you turn to get expert training? Of course your department has to deal with budgetary constraints, red tape, and politics, but it is important to you to get the job done properly, possibly saving lives of innocent civilians, or your brother and sister officers.

As members of the Rochester, New York, Police Department Emergency Task Force (SWAT), we have trained with some of the best police and military organizations in the country. These organizations include: the International Association of Chief’s of Police, the United States Marine Corps, and the Navy Seals. The Emergency Task Force has learned different tactics and methods of operation from these organizations that has enabled us to resolve a variety of tactical situations that have occurred. Even though the Emergency Task Force is a part time team, we stress the importance of being qualified to do the job and deal with life-threatening situations when the need arises. The Emergency Task Force never wants to accept mediocrity, or to stop seeking training to better our team. We always look for training that is offered by good, credible instructors.

Officer Carl Simms, a co-author of this article and the Emergency Task Force sniper training coordinator, choose one training organization that offers a unique and comprehensive method of sniper training. This organization also offers police sniper instructor certification once their course is successfully completed. In addition, selected graduates receive the opportunity to work with the organization and instruct other police sniper teams all over the world. The name of this organization is Operational Tactics, Inc.

The president and chief instructor of Operational Tactics, Inc. is Stuart A. Meyers. He was a member of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Department of Police from 1982 to 1998. As a member of the Centralized and Decentralized Special Weapons and Tactics Team from 1983 to 1996, he was deployed as a primary sniper on numerous tactical operations. Stuart Meyers’ training background includes graduation from the Baltimore County, Maryland, Police Counter-Sniper School (Honor Graduate), Carlos Hathcock/Virginia Beach, Virginia, Police Advanced Counter-Sniper School, United States Marine Corps Scout/Sniper Instructor School Enhancement Course (Honor Graduate), Quantico, Virginia, and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team Advanced Sniper School. As a certified firearms instructor, he has taught courses in SWAT operations, specializing in sniper training and tactics around the world. He is an instructor for the U.S. Department of State Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program and the National Tactical Officers Association, co-authoring its recommended policy and procedures for deployment and utilization of law enforcement snipers. He is also the author of the books, "A Guide To Police Sniping" and "Police Sniper Administrative Policy & Training."

The Operational Tactics, Inc. Advanced Sniper School was attended by three members of the Rochester Police Department Emergency Task Force Sniper Team. We were fortunate to host this school here in Rochester, New York and receive complimentary slots for two of our police snipers to attend. We saved the department some money by paying for only one person to attend the Advanced Sniper School, plus we received some of the best police sniper training in the world. The curriculum was extremely challenging. From first day of class to the day of final qualification, we were pushed to the limits of our abilities.

Officer Garth Mitchell, the other co-author of this article and a former U.S. Marine, stated that, "Outside of boot camp, the Advanced Sniper School was the most physically and mentally challenging course that I’ve ever attended. I’ve been to several shooting schools sponsored by nationally accredited organizations, but I’ve never seen a true all around sniper school like this one by Operational Tactics, Inc."

Officer Simms felt the same way, even though he did not complete any military time. He played sports in high school and college and always had that coach who had the mind-set of being physically and mentally better than your opponent. The coach attributed good hard work to accomplishing the tasks that others could not or would not. This is how the Advanced Sniper School was to the 10 of us who attended the course. Good Hard Work!

Starting from the first day of the school, we had no idea what to expect from the beginning of the day, to the end. We were being taught the importance of being flexible and the ability to adapt to any and all situations presented in an operational environment. The school included range time, classroom instruction, field training, and role plays/scenarios. We utilized an outdoor range with surrounding woods and swamps for live-fire and stalking exercises. Downtown Rochester was the scene of a five-hour urban operation that culminated in the successful rescue of all hostages. Meyers repeated one concept that stayed in our minds, "We will train in this school for situations that you and I have encountered or could encounter on actual SWAT call-outs. You have to be prepared mentally and physically." Just think of the last SWAT call out you had. Were you prepared? Every police sniper wants to be, but there are times that you get caught short of being prepared.

Equipment is another important part of being prepared as a sniper. Everyone that attended the Advanced Sniper School had equipment that was supplied by his department. There were seven different departments represented and a lot of the equipment supplied to each of the police snipers was different. There was one student from the Singapore Armed Forces, Robin Chang, who was supplied with some of the best technical equipment that any police sniper would love to have. Cost is something that your department controls and you have to do the best you can with what is issued. You should know the benefits, as well as the limitations of your equipment and never stop asking to be better equipped. Proper training will allow you to become efficient with the equipment and to accomplish your duties as a SWAT officer.

We started the course with nine law enforcement snipers from various departments in the United States and one military sniper supervisor from Singapore. Throughout the school we performed a variety of exercises. They included shooting at stationary targets, cold bore shots, moving targets, stalking exercises, and classroom activities. Each day was a challenging one. At the end of the day, you wanted to go home and sleep, but unfortunately, you had to go home and study. There was limited time for rest, because at the end of the school, a comprehensive written final examination was given and a passing grade had to be scored to complete this phase of testing.

Everyone also had to keep a minimum weekly percentage of their cold bore shooting score established by Operational Tactics. If you did not have a minimum passing score prior to qualification day, you were not allowed to qualify and subsequently received only a certificate of attendance. There were everyday pressures for you to perform to the best of your abilities and to overcome the different obstacles presented by the weather and by Meyers.

Even though all of the students were currently assigned as snipers on their respective SWAT teams, the shooting qualification course was no cakewalk for any of us. Every student was allowed enough time to practice all the phases of the 20-round qualification course, which included a cold bore shot, moving targets at 100 and 200 yards, and an exertion course. Each phase of the Advanced Sniper School qualification course had to be passed prior to proceeding to the next phase. Of all the phases, the engagement of moving targets at 100 and 200 yards proved to be rather difficult and challenging for many of the students.

Upon completion of the Advanced Sniper School, all of us had experienced the classroom instruction, the effort involved in preparing our own lesson plans for a student presentation, shooting phases, stalking exercises, varied role plays, and each day of not knowing what task was in store for us. This had been truly, a learning experience. We realized that this school taught us, as police snipers, to be prepared when we are called upon, to conduct future training as if it was an actual life-threatening situation, and to have the correct equipment to get the job done. There was a great sense of accomplishment, but at the same time, remorse for those students who did not successfully complete the course. There was camaraderie established among all the students on the first day of the school and continued until we departed to go back to our departments for our duties after the school was over. We helped each other daily to combat all the challenges that were presented to us by our primary instructor, Stuart Meyers.

The Operational Tactics, Inc. Advanced Sniper School established a sense of respect and pride for the role of police sniper, and being able to maintain training with the "edge" that Stuart Meyers skillfully presented. Everyday, Meyers related to the students the importance of quality training and a "train with a purpose" attitude that must be present to accomplish the tasks of a police sniper. When you attend either the Basic or the Advanced Sniper School from Operational Tactics Inc., re-enforcement for passing any task will never go unnoticed by the instructor. Stuart Meyers may just have some outstanding things to say to you on your performance and you may learn something that could save someone’s life, maybe your own.

About the Authors

Officer Carl C. Simms is a 21-year veteran of the Rochester, New York, Police Department. He is currently assigned as a Team Leader for the Emergency Task Force (SWAT) Sniper Team. Officer Simms’ responsibilities as a member of the Rochester Police Department Tactical Unit include: the coordination and training of police snipers, deployment on emergency response operations, the execution of search warrants and high risk arrest warrants, and operating in a specialized sector to address street crimes and felony patterns. He is a certified police sniper instructor who teaches sniper training and tactics throughout the country.

Officer Garth W. Mitchell is a nine-year veteran of the Rochester, New York, Police Department. Officer Mitchell has been a member of the Department’s Emergence Task Force (SWAT) since 1991. His responsibilities include functioning as the team’s primary sniper, deployment on emergency response operations, coordinating police sniper training, and participating in the execution of search warrants and high-risk arrest warrants.