The documents listed below are provided as a service to interested snipers and team leaders to assist you in writing policies and structuring programs. All of this material is copyrighted by ASA. However, you are free to copy and paste any of the individual segments for your agency's use. The only restriction we place on the use of the information provided here is that it not be reproduced in any format for independent or commercial purposes without the expressed written permission of the American Sniper Association.
ASA Safety Alert and Recommendations (First Item)
Safety Alert and Recommendations
Notice from the American Sniper Association
Published August 16, 2009
Summary: The American Sniper Association has become increasingly aware of a safety issue involving unintended discharges associated with bolt action sniper rifles. This issue has shown up in the most common sniper rifles, but others have also manifested this problem, although understandably on a much smaller scale.
The issue is the possibility of unintended discharges occurring during routine manipulation of the weapon’s controls. By unintended discharge, we mean the gun fires without contact of any kind with the trigger. This is different from any accidental or negligent discharge caused by inadvertent or careless touching of the trigger with the shooter’s hand, equipment or other object.
Unintentional discharges have occurred in one of three primary modes:
Fire on bolt close: With the safety in the fire position, the sniper closes the bolt on a live round, and the gun discharges without any manipulation of the trigger.
Fire on bolt open: With the safety in the fire position and the bolt closed on a live round, as the sniper lifts the bolt handle, the rifle discharges, without any manipulation of the trigger.
Fire on safety release: With the bolt closed on a live round, and the safety engaged, upon moving the safety lever from Safe to Fire, the rifle discharges without any manipulation of the trigger. A variation of this malfunction starts with the bolt closed on a live round and the safety engaged. The sniper pulls the trigger to no effect, then, realizing the safety is on, releases the safety and the rifle immediately discharges without any other manipulation of the trigger.
Unintentional discharges stemming from one or more of these conditions have been occurring with sniper rifles for decades. During the tenure of the American Sniper Association, we have been actively tracking and documenting these occurrences. This is not limited to anecdotal information received in reports from snipers nationwide. For over twenty years, all of the ASA Executive Board members and most of the Advisory Board members have been actively involved in the sniper community, both as operational snipers and trainers. We collectively have witnessed hundreds of these various unintended discharges firsthand. Taken together, all of the evidence points to a potentially dangerous situation which demands immediate action before one of these unintentional discharges results in an injury or death.
To address this issue, the American Sniper Association recommends the following courses of action:
From a forensic standpoint, if your rifle has any of these unintended discharges, do not examine the rifle or trigger on site. Make the rifle clear and safe and remove any live ammunition from the firearm. The rifle should be treated as evidence; therefore it should be handled and packaged in such a way as to preserve the existing condition of the rifle until it can be examined by a certified armorer in a clean environment. This will aid in diagnosing the cause of the discharge. It is recommended the bipod and sling, if so equipped, be carefully removed and packaged separately to reduce cross contamination during shipping and handling.
If you have experienced any unexplained or unintended weapon discharges, we suggest you take the weapon out of service. Contact the manufacturer immediately, advise them of the incident, and ask to have the weapon system examined and serviced. This should include having the current trigger assembly replaced with a trigger within factory specifications.
It is recommended the most modern components offered by a rifle manufacturer be used. This would include any internal component, safety, trigger assembly, or any other upgrade offered by the factory.
If you have not experienced an unintended discharge to date, be aware it can happen to any rifle, usually without warning, so take extra care while handling a loaded rifle, in training and on callouts. At your earliest opportunity, contact the manufacturer and ask to have your weapon system serviced, and have the trigger assembly addressed.
You can also choose to have your factory trigger replaced with an after-market trigger, such as those provided by reputable aftermarket companies. Police snipers are advised to shop and compare, and use their own best judgment when choosing a trigger product. The installation should be done by a factory certified sniper rifle armorer.
Rifles and their components are mechanical devices; any mechanical device is subject to failure. Be aware unintended discharges can occur in any rifle/trigger combinations, and this product alert is not intended to single out any one brand or model. Any trigger can be compromised by improper adjustments and/or poor maintenance. Regardless of make or model of your sniper rifle, if it has displayed any of the aforementioned unintended discharge issues, our recommendation is to seek remedy from the manufacturer. Take the rifle out of service immediately. Contact the manufacturer and make them aware of the problem and ask them to address it as soon as possible.
Whether aftermarket or manufacturers original equipment, you must have all elements of your trigger adjusted within manufacturers specifications. The ASA recommended pull weight is 3.5 to 5 pounds. If it is out of spec, take the weapon out of service and have it serviced by a certified armorer as soon as possible. This applies to all other rifles being used for tactical sniper applications. For additional information, see the ASA Position Letter on Trigger Pull Weights.*
All triggers, regardless of make, model or manufacturer must be properly cleaned and lubricated to ensure reliable and safe functioning. A failure of the safety and/or trigger can occur if the mechanism is compromised by fouling, debris or corrosion. These types of failures have been documented by ASA. Trigger maintenance is the responsibility of the sniper. Read your weapon’s service manual for instructions, or contact ASA.
The danger of unintended discharges in rifles being used in the field every day by tactical snipers needs to be addressed immediately, before an inadvertent injury or death results, either during a training exercise, or during an actual operation. The price of a failure is too high to leave it to chance and hope for the best. If you or your administration have any questions regarding this matter, or require additional documentation, feel free to contact the American Sniper Association, 863-385-7835, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
* This and other ASA Position Letters are posted on the website, www.americansniper.org, and can be found in the Police Sniper Training and Operations Manual, available from WIISAD Books.
UPDATE: Remington Arms has issued a recall for most rifles currently equipped with X-Mark Pro triggers. It is strongly suggested that all agencies using Remington rifles contact the company as soon as possible to take advantage of this opportunity.
The police sniper represents a unique type of peace officer, both in terms of the nature of the specialty and the type of officer needed to fulfill this vital task. But this requires specialized training, which is not within the norm of law enforcement training. It requires more time, effort, expertise, and specialized training and equipment than most other aspects of law enforcement. It deserves the full commitment, support, and resources of any agency considering deploying sniper/observers for critical incidents. Therefore, the recommendations in this Position Paper must be adopted in order to ensure the following for the law enforcement sniper/observer and their agency:
(1) Operational success during real world callouts and other situational tasks.
(2) Confidence and proficiency by the sniper/observer team that they are prepared to do their job.
(3) Team, officer and citizen safety.
(4) Reduce risk of municipal liability in regards to failure to train, training content, training frequency, training realism, performance standards, or documentation of training. The standard of care in your agency for sniper training, qualification, and certification needs to be realistic and reasonable. This will be looked at by the courts and is often a deciding factor in whether or not the agency, instructor, unit leader, or officer was liable or negligent.
It is the goal of this position statement by the American Sniper Association to provide guidance, standardization, and continuity to the law enforcement community in regard to its sniping capability. This is an important specialty within the tactical community. The absolute need for this capability for incident resolution and tactical team support has long been established. There have been numerous incidents where law enforcement snipers saved lives and increased officer and public safety by their authorized actions. But, there have also been failures and misuse. There are often incidents where a failure to equip, enable, properly deploy, or the misapplication of the police sniper has resulted in death or grievous bodily harm to officers or citizens. There are others where mistakes were made that proper training or procedures could have prevented. Many of these successes can be traced and directly linked to training and certification that was received. Likewise, failures can be linked to inadequate or a complete lack of certain types of training. Because of the critical nature of the types of incidents that warrant the activation of a tactical response team and their snipers, this area deserves much more emphasis and improvement nationwide.
STANDARDS - Many in the professional training community concern themselves with minimum standards recommendations. When this happens, the agency attempting to follow these will in many cases not even get to that level and may achieve far less. A minimum standard in terms of numbers of hours is a certain way to not be ready. Snipers should ideally be concerned with maximum standards and doing everything that is in their power to ensure that they are proficient and capable operationally. However, in the real world in which we operate, our goal must be to establish and to attain optimal industry standards for training and skills maintenance.
Training standards for the police sniper must be looked upon in three distinct categories. Merely attending a sniper course should not be considered certification. But, certification should include this. Training and qualification are not merely shooting, but must include all of the tasks that will be performed operationally, particularly the important role as the trained observer and reconnaissance asset to the tactical team.
Certification - This is the program by which the agency certifies for duty its sniper/observers, their element leaders, and instructors. This includes selection, assessment, and training of the right officers for the job. This process must be documented. Each agency must establish a written SOP delineating each phase of the sniper program. It includes training courses and training events. This SOP and certification should also include having met selection criterion for both swat team membership and being a sniper. Some of these are sniper specific. It is a combination of physical, mental, and emotional capability and certain specific characteristics and capabilities that the individual officer must possess to be successful as a sniper/observer.
Training - Initial and sustainment training. The initial training is that which the sniper receives skills and information to attain minimum functional capability and should be prior to operational deployment. It is a formal course that is law enforcement oriented and conducted by a reputable entity or in-house by qualified instructors. Criterion for evaluating snipers schools should include relevant course content, instructors who are experienced police snipers, and ongoing support for students.
This training must be sustained by regular, in-service training. Sustainment training should be comprehensive and job-related. It must also be documented with lesson plans, detailing content, goals and objectives, and performance standards. The goal is to maintain present skill levels, as well as impart advanced skills, knowledge and tactics. This will be a continuing process. The end state of total preparedness will never be reached, but continual training that has the proper content is assurance of operational readiness.
The field of sniping is constantly evolving, with changes in tactics, equipment, laws and experiences. In order to stay abreast of these changes, as well as to expose your snipers to other points of view, ongoing formal training must occur with regularity. At least every two years, snipers should be sent to recognized training schools, seminars and competitions outside of their own jurisdictions.
TRAINING PRINCIPLES AND CONTENT: In establishing a training program, do so with these principles in mind:
1. Snipers are still police officers.
2. Snipers on operations work under stress.
a. Simple procedures
b. Repetitive training
c. Training under induced stress
3. Targets Are non-cooperative
a. Sniper marksmanship is rapid-fire marksmanship
4. Training ammunition is deployment ammunition.
In-service training should contain at least the following elements. Additional topics can be added as time and facilities allow.
Marksmanship and Weapons Skills:
Sniper Rifle Operation and Maintenance (to include optics maintenance)
Sniper Rifle/Ammunition Capabilities and Limitations
Scope Adjustment and Mounting
Zero/Rezero (when, how, etc.)
Known range data/incremental range grouping
Position shooting, with and without hasty or attached slings)
Supported positions, to include urban hide positions
Single shots by command direction
Shooting under increased physical stress
Shooting drills with threat identification
Shoot/Don’t Shoot scenarios
Engagements in low light and ambient low light using night vision Engagement through intermediate barriers
Shots from an actual urban or rural hide
Fieldcraft /Operational Skills
Camouflage and Concealment
Undetected movement / stalking
Hide selection and management
Observation (technological means, use of optics, and the skills of observation and recording)
Structure/incident site labeling and diagramming
Tactical communications and reporting
Determining and correction of environmental factors
Tactical Decision Making / Scenario Based Training
Tactics and Operations
Integrated training with entry team
Agency policy on use of force reflected in training (is mandated by the courts and is the accepted standard within tactical organizations)
Lessons learned / technical debriefs of actual sniper operations.
Realistic training exercises and scenario driven training
Report writing and court presentation
Optimal Training Hours Recommendation - Sniper skills are perishable. A proper sniper program requires preparation, practice and documentation. Because of the volume and content of training necessary to maintain operational readiness, the American Sniper Association recommends 12 to 16 hours a month be set aside for sniper training. This training is above and beyond any joint or cross training dedicated to overall SWAT skills and duties. Although we realize this may exceed what many agencies are currently allocating for this purpose, we feel that anything less seriously impacts the ability of snipers to adequately prepare for their real world mission, compromising both safety and efficiency.
Qualification - When possible, qualification should consist of not only marksmanship, but also fieldcraft and tactics. These qualification events should be at the distances, conditions, and variables that the sniper could encounter operationally. It should be realistic, job relevant, and standardized. The frequency, content and standard of performance required in the qualification course must be detailed in the team SOP, along with procedures for those who fail the course at any given point. It is our recommendation that teams hold sniper qualifications at least quarterly. Qualification is not a substitute for training. Qualification is the means by which we evaluate whether our snipers can meet the performance standard.
In designing a live fire Qualification Course, you might consider including the following elements:
Multiple positions, to include using alternative support items, and positions other than prone
Humanoid Head targets that are to scale and have color
(Scoring area should be clearly delineated and anatomically correct. The scoring area should not be visible to the shooter from his position.)
Threat Identification/Decision Making (having no-shoot targets)
Hostage situation target
Some degree of induced physical stress
Compressed time frames for each position/stage
Moving Targets, as facilities allow
Qualification courses should be shot under all lighting and weather conditions the sniper team can reasonably expect to be called to operate in. They should also be done in full callout attire. Consider the use of no-notice qualification courses, in which the sniper has no opportunity to re-zero his rifle.
A skilled and efficient sniper team is an asset no law enforcement agency can afford to be without. Those skills and efficiency don’t come naturally. Nor are they permanent or meant to be stagnant. The training of a sniper is a journey, rather than a destination.
Dedicating 12 to 16 hours a month to a structured training program will provide adequate time for snipers to maintain their life-saving skills. A well-crafted qualification course will test and validate those skills. An agency approved SOP, and ongoing documentation of the program will certify its readiness to answer that call to duty when it inevitably comes. To set standards any lower, endangers the men and the missions.
The concept of a two-man police sniper team, although not a new tactical concept, is one of the most frequently violated tenets of professional sniper deployment.
As a profession we often try to "make do" with the number of police sniper personnel we deploy. Because agencies often "make do" with numbers of personnel deployed, those charged with the actual mission often seem to "get by". The alternative of course to "making do" and "getting by" is failure, which is something no agency or its officers will allow to happen.
To fail in a tactical venue will have unacceptable and disastrous consequences. Lives will be in jeopardy; people will get hurt or killed. So sometimes we stretch our resources to the limit and beyond in order to try to make it "work". As a result we sometimes end up "succeeding" on a tactical callout in spite of ourselves and simply because we were lucky. Sound familiar? Good results reinforce poor practices.
The fact is sniper/observer teams who train as a "team" and start out a callout as a "team" all too often are directed to deploy alone or are split up to cover an operational area that is beyond their capability to adequately cover.
Consequently when tactical officers want to staff two-man sniper teams or train additional personnel for this purpose the response often is "we always seem to get the job done without them" and "they are not necessary". Limited training dollars can be best spent "somewhere else" for something else.
The military on the other hand learned this lesson a long time ago. A military sniper/observer element consists of at least two cross-trained personnel. Team members never leave each other except under extraordinary circumstances. In the case of hostage rescue, it’s not uncommon to see a three-man team, consisting of an observer and two snipers. Military forces verses even a large law enforcement agency have much greater resources to draw upon. If the military needs additional personnel for a specific mission additional slots are authorized, selection and training takes place, and additional equipment procured and issued.
Police departments on the other hand often find themselves with limited resources in terms of the number of sworn personnel and equipment with which they can respond. During critical incidents these resources can all too often be stretched out razor thin.
Notwithstanding, the causes for tactical responses, be they criminal, or terrorist threats of domestic or international origin, are not dependent on these aspects of the law enforcement response. Criminals do not adjust their acts based on the number of members on an agency’s SWAT team. They do not concern themselves with how many snipers are deployed or what their positions are. They do not consider if the team is a part or full time team, they do not care about the quality or quantity of their training. They don’t care when their last qualification session was. They assume the response is going to be nothing less than 100%. If it is something less, then it is favorable for them.
Add to this the fact there are many administrators and commanders who really don’t understand the role of the police sniper and the reasons for the fundamental tenet of operating in two-man teams. Having a partner in the field should not be considered some sort of luxury; rather it is in reality a necessity. There are a number of quality sniper supervisor training classes occurring nationwide, but until the time training makes a difference officers in the field will experience a variety of command and supervisory actions and reactions.
An observer on a sniper/observer team should be a fully qualified second sniper. They should be similarly trained and equipped and work together as a team. Most active police snipers who have utilized a partner understand the importance of operating as a two-man team and the fact duties can be shared while on a callout. Operating in this way increases team safety; it’s effectiveness and efficiency and ultimately increases the probability of a successful tactical outcome.
Now lets take a look at some of the duties and responsibilities of police snipers/observers teams and the reasons why they should remain a two-man team when deployed.
OBSERVATION - One of the primary responsibilities of any sniper/observer team is to observe and report in detail. The snipers are the eyes and ears of the tactical response, utilizing superior optics from a position of advantage while remaining concealed. They report in real time those detailed observations and information critical to the overall successful conclusion of a tactical callout. They are critical in terms of any tactical planning and when considering other tactical options. Command personnel, supervisors, negotiators, entry teams and indeed hostages and innocents all rely on what these trained observers are able to report back to a command post in real-time information.
Observers can assist with gathering information and in describing predictable target areas in detail. They can utilize additional equipment specifically designed for observation such as high quality spotting scope, binoculars, night vision and other observation specific equipment. Trained observers can gather information such as the location of door hinges, window hasps, locks, location of animals, and possible approach routes for entry/reaction teams.
Observers can report movement of hostage/s, location of entry/reaction teams, and target reaction should a shot become necessary. They can communicate the effectiveness of the shot to the sniper who may not be able to see the result due to the temporary loss of sight picture as the rifle recoils. They can communicate the team’s intent to immediately deliver a follow-up shot/s to command staff and waiting entry team members. The fact is one shot usually ends a situation, but not in all situations.
COMMUNICATIONS - Arguably the number one problem on any tactical callout is that of communications. Invariably it seems personnel are often not able to communicate effectively with each other for a variety of reasons. Snipers who are alone are additionally disadvantaged by having to try to maintain observation of a predictable target area with a scoped rifle system and also try to communicate by radio. Snipers should be concentrating on all of the tasks required and related to providing precision ballistic coverage. They should not be dividing their attention with the additional duties of reporting information and controlling communications. It has been proven in the field to be nearly impossible to deliver accurate fire under stress, on a moving target, from a less than perfect position, while trying to communicate those observations to the command center. The job of handling communication is best left to the other sniper who is the acting observer. Teams may operate with one officer on the rifle while the other handles communications on the radio.
SECURITY – Not all police sniper operations occur in safe and friendly surroundings. And target subjects are not obligated to stay where they started. Observers can provide team security by providing vigilance for anyone walking up or trying to acquire the team from any direction. They will often have immediate access to a backup light rifle and pistol while performing these tasks.
DOCUMENTATION - Observers can maintain a chronological operational log relative to the mission. This can include amongst other things the suspect/s facial and body descriptions, initial briefing and rules of engagement, any commands authorizing the use of deadly force, suspect attempts at escape or actions and behavior during surrender, etc. Information like this can be crucial to an investigation that may arise from dealing with a critical incident.
FATIGUE – An Observer may have to relieve his partner by exchanging duties with the primary sniper as often as every 15-20 minutes on an operation. Looking through a riflescope, binoculars, spotting scope or a night vision device is extremely fatiguing and can cause blurred vision, headaches, and general fatigue over time.
In one case from the Northeast, a police sniper sustained an injury to his lower back by remaining unrelieved in position for a long period of time. This injury was so substantial it ultimately resulted in his inability to continue working as a police officer necessitating that he retire for medical reasons. He remains injured to this day, years after the actual incident, his first callout becoming his last.
SUSTAINMENT - Callouts can continue for long periods of time. Team members can provide the ability to allow each other the opportunity to access hydration, field expedient high-energy foods, insect repellant, sunscreen, and to attend to other personal needs while in the field while maintaining a viable operational vigilance.
ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT - The observer can carry additional equipment into the position. A sniper/observer team can only utilize what they have brought with them. A single sniper is limited as to what he will be able to physically carry into an area while actively seeking to become operational with a scoped rifle.
TEAMWORK - Observers can and do assist their teammates in many ways. Teammates can assist with hide selection and camouflage, help in creating shooting platforms, team positions, ensuring ballistic paths are clear to the target area, equipment and ammunition management, range confirmation, adjusting for environmental conditions, or a variety of other tasks and is only limited by their experience and training.
SURVIVAL - A sniper/observer team can assist each other in their personal survival. They can help each other in achieving and maintain a 100% camouflage condition. They can help each other setting up on roofs and in negotiating obstacles and fences while on the way to an operational area. Should one or the other sustain an injury or come under fire and be wounded, they can provide immediate first aid and assist in their personal survival, reveal the exact team location and request assistance and/or extraction for each other.
POSITIVE TARGET IDENTIFICATION - A police sniper must have absolute positive target ID prior to delivering the shot. A sniper will want to be able to distinguish actual permanent facial features prior to taking a shot. Observers literally provide a second set of eyes and can assist with additional optically enhanced observations. Having another officer to assist in confirming absolute positive target identification in a deadly force situation may be in and of itself the most important reason for maintaining a two-man team.
COORDINATE ENGAGEMENT - Having the ability to provide coordinated engagement can increase the capabilities of any tactical team response. Should a target be behind an intermediate barrier such as a glass window, coordinated shots can increase the probability of an effective hit. The recent advent of applied film technology has the potential of making shots through intermediate barriers even more difficult for a single shooter.
There is yet another reason the observer is sniper trained and has the necessary equipment. Rifle systems are mechanical devices and as such are subject to failure. There is a documented case in Florida where two snipers engaged a target with coordinated fire. At the crucial moment one of the rifles fired while the other failed to do so. The single shot was effective and proved to be a life saving shot for two hostages. Had there not been two rifles deployed on this incidents there may have been different results.
MORAL SUPPORT - The job of a police sniper is not an easy one. There are many difficulties to overcome on an "average" callout, it is not a job that everyone wants or is capable of performing. It is physically demanding and mentally stressful. Having another officer present can provide significant psychological and moral support during callouts, which can range from very long protracted observations to dynamic, chaotic and horrific situations.
CONCLUSION - Sending a sniper out alone or splitting up a sniper/observer team is a not a preferable method of deployment because it may increase individual risks and incur additional liabilities. Sending a sniper out alone or splitting up a sniper/observer team is a bad idea and may work against achieving a successful tactical resolution.
It is the position of the American Sniper Association that in so far as possible and practical a police sniper response should always consist of at least a two-man team. The reasons stated in this position letter, while not all-inclusive should highlight good reasons and support a strong argument to do so. It is our sincere hope that more agencies will adopt this as a standard operational concept reflected in agency policy and procedure and during police sniper training.
The American Sniper Association recognizes the emotional and psychological impact which can result from the aftermath of life-threatening, catastrophic events. Officers involved in deadly force incidents fall into this category. The use of deadly force by a police officer is a unique event in law enforcement. This is even more acute in the role of the police sniper. His actions are usually more intimate and deliberate than other deadly force encounters. As a result, it requires a special level of follow-up. Although these post-shooting steps should be followed in the aftermath of any police shooting, this position letters speaks specifically for the needs of the police sniper.
This policy is divided into two areas of focus, the first being the responsibilities of agency administrators. This includes the Chief, command staff, supervisors and investigative personnel. The second portion addresses the sniper himself. Both are intended to minimize the potential traumatic effect on the individual officer, as well as the rest of the agency, while insuring an accurate and complete investigation of the incident.
This policy is built on recommendations from clinical psychologists, attorneys, criminal investigators, and agency administrators. Their collective findings are based on clinical and research data from hundreds of police-involved shootings. It also reflects the first-hand experiences of snipers who have pulled the trigger.
The primary concerns of the agency following a police sniper shooting must be the physical and emotional well being of the sniper and all other on-scene police personnel. The preservation and accurate recording of physical evidence is also a vital area of concern, but secondary to the need to determine the health and safety of all persons immediately involved in the incident.
ASA suggests and recommends the following post-shooting procedures in any event involving the use of deadly force by a police sniper:
Check on the health of the sniper. Once the fighting has ended and the physical danger has passed, your first priority must be checking on the welfare of your personnel. If any are injured, then securing medical attention is your very next concern. Plus, expressions of concern for the psychological well-being of personnel by the individual in authority has been demonstrated to be of significant value to the long-term welfare of the involved officer.
As soon as it is safe and practical, secure the scene. Ensure that all steps are taken to collect and record accurate crime scene data, as well as account for witnesses.
Allow the sniper to oversee the evidentiary collection of his weapon. This step is contingent upon the sniper’s physical and psychological condition, of course. Keeping the sniper involved at this point helps him to retain a level of control over the events unfolding.
Remove the sniper from the scene as soon as is practical, and require that the officer be examined at a medical facility. There may be no obvious physical injury, but the emotional and mental stress may have a serious impact. This insulates the sniper from unnecessary questions, and scrutiny from bystanders, other officers and the media.
Advise the sniper on the progression of events from that time forward. The unknown creates fear. Being aware of what is going to happen to him will help the involved officer to relax and deal with the next few days.
Encourage the sniper to contact his family. It is important for him and his family to confirm that he is all right.
Encourage the sniper to secure legal representation as soon as possible. An attorney with a background in use of force issues should be previously identified and available 24 hours a day. Emphasize to the sniper that there is no allegation of wrongdoing, but this is a highly-charged, emotional moment. The sniper needs to have an impartial third party at work to help him deal with procedural issues and decision-making.
Supply the sniper with peer support. The effects of post-traumatic stress can start almost immediately. Peer support is a clinically recognized therapeutic safeguard.
An individual psychological debriefing for the sniper should be mandatory. It should be scheduled to occur within the first 72 hours of the incident. This is deemed the optimal time frame for post-crisis intervention. Making it part of the policy removes the stigma of seeing a mental health professional, and is recognized as a vital step in the recovery process for the sniper.
A group debriefing, consisting of all involved individuals (including dispatchers) should also be mandatory. Research has demonstrated that the input from peers who have shared the event with the sniper can be one of the most important aspects of psychological well-being. Such a group debriefing is also a key factor in assessing lessons learned and future training needs.
The sniper should have a mandated administrative leave (not suspension with pay), effective immediately. He should return to work only when he feels emotionally ready to return to duty, but no sooner than three days. Other than the most basic Garrity statement, he should not be forced to give any official statement, written or verbal, until after returning from this diffusing period. The sensory and cognitive distortions caused by his traumatic event may prevent him from giving an accurate account until those effects have subsided.
As soon as is practical, brief the rest of the department about the incident. This incident clarification is intended to educate uninvolved officers. Provide enough information to dispel rumors and minimize destructive second-guessing, but do not compromise any ongoing investigations.
The media should be provided with accurate information regarding the event, taking care not to compromise any ongoing investigations, or the privacy of the involved sniper. In the absence of information provided by your office, media outlets may resort to speculation and unsubstantiated sources for their reports.
At the conclusion of the investigations, a complete tactical debriefing of the incident should be offered to the entire agency. This is an opportunity to look objectively at lessons learned, and to improve on tactics and planning for next time.
Prior to going back into service, the sniper should be required to re-qualify with his weapon. Re-qualification provides reassurance for the sniper in his skills, his willingness to engage in expected responsibilities, and the readiness of his weapon system. It provides documentation for the agency that the sniper maintains the required degree of proficiency with his weapon, and that he is fit to return to duty in his assigned position.
For the individual sniper, many of his after-action steps closely parallel those of his agency, with some important differences. The goal of his actions is survival—physical, legal and psychological.
Take all necessary steps to preserve the crime scene. Freeze the moment until your position, field of view, the conditions at the time of the shot, and all other pertinent information is accurately recorded.
Oversee the collection of your weapon. If possible, handle this step personally. Render the weapon safe. Record scope settings, shooting position and other details. Package the weapon in a padded case for future handling, and transport to the crime lab.
Protect your legal rights. Speak to no one outside of your hide until you have consulted your legal representative. You have done nothing wrong, but you need to have an objective professional at the scene looking out for your best interests.
Separate yourself from the scene as soon as is practical. In the meantime, watch what you say and to whom. Assume no area is secure from unauthorized ears.
Seek out or accept peer support. (Take care not to discuss the details of the incident in this context. There is no legal privilege of communication with other officers.) Now is not the time for macho heroics. You have been involved in the most traumatic event in police work. The emotional effects can either be dramatic, or insidious. Having friendly support close by can’t hurt.
Take full advantage of the cooling off period offered by your agency. Use the time to relax and distance yourself from the event. Don’t listen to the news, or read the papers.
When you are ready, and no sooner, give a formal statement to your investigative bureau regarding the incident. This should be done with the assistance and advice from your legal representative. The statement you give will follow you throughout the life of the investigations that will follow. You want to make sure it is accurate and complete, the first time.
If you feel it is needed for your emotional well-being, seek professional counseling. Continue treatment until you are healthy. Each of us has our own emotional tolerance level. Some individuals will handle an incident such as this with little difficulty. Others will never be the same. Your emotional survival is just as important as your physical survival was when the shots were being fired.
This model policy is a recommendation for agencies and individual snipers to consider in formulating their own formal after-action policy. The intent of this position letter is to help agencies in establishing a policy framework, which will have the full support of the American Sniper Association, as well as the reviewing body of experts and administrators. Feel free to contact ASA for information, suggestions and/or feedback.
International Association of Chiefs of Police, IACP Psychological Services Section
Artwohl, Alexis, Ph.D, Christensen, Loren W, (1997). Deadly Force Encounters, Paladin Press
Blum, Lawrence N, Ph.D, (2000). Force Under Pressure: How Cops Live and Why They Die, New York, New York, Lantern Books
Kates, Allen R, (2000). CopShock: Surviving Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Calibre Press
Grossman, David, Lt. Col., US Army (Ret.), (1996). On Killing, Boston, Massachusetts, Back Bay Books
Chief Jeff Chudwin, Olympia Fields, IL PD
Sheriff Jim Main, Douglas County, OR SD
The American Sniper Association recently invested more than three years in conducting a nationwide survey of police sniper teams and shootings. In addition to the statistical database we were able to develop, we also accumulated a substantial amount of anecdotal information. One of the issues brought to our attention by snipers we interviewed was the handling of the sniper’s weapon in the aftermath of his shooting. What we found was the wide variety of post-shooting procedures, with no consistent reasoning behind them. Progressive agencies recognized the unique circumstances of police sniper shootings, and went to great lengths to expedite the process of collecting and testing the weapon, with the goal of returning the weapon as soon as possible. In other cases, we found agencies that would take the weapon from the officer at the scene, and hold it in evidence for as long as two years, while the investigations ran their course, even though there wasn’t any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing on the sniper’s part.
The question we ask is, why hold the weapon? While investigating a police-involved shooting, the primary question is determining whether or not the shot was legally justified. The style, size, caliber or type of weapon used to shoot the subject is not relevant in deciding the legality of the shot itself. It would seem reasonable then to release the gun back to the police officer as soon as essential technical information was obtained and recorded.
There are only three situations in which the weapon itself would be of evidentiary value in a police shooting. One would be if trace evidence or latent prints on the weapon were necessary to link the weapon to a particular officer. The second would be if the shot were accidental or unintentional, and the shooter was claiming the weapon had somehow malfunctioned and was a contributory cause of the death or injury. A third would be if the sights (or optical scope) were so grossly misaligned, that the shot missed its intended target and struck someone else. In these cases, it would make sense to collect the weapon, thoroughly test its functionality, compare it to factory specifications, and hold it in evidentiary custody until all litigations are completed.
This reasoning makes sense in most police shootings. It is critical when the shooting involves SWAT weapons, especially sniper rifles.
With most agencies, the field practice is to take the officer’s weapon from him, and give him a replacement weapon, which allows him to return to duty. With snipers, this may not be possible. A sniper rifle is a specialized piece of equipment. Most teams have only enough to outfit their sniper contingent. Many times, the rifle is personally purchased and owned by the individual sniper himself. It is often custom fit for the particular sniper assigned to it. Few agencies have spares available to loan out to a sniper waiting for his weapon to be returned from evidence. Therefore, while the weapon is being held in an evidence locker, awaiting resolution of the pending case, the sniper is out of service. This, in turn, handicaps his team and agency.
How the weapons are handled while in the custody of forensic personnel is another issue that has been brought to our attention. We have heard stories of rifles placed unprotected under piles of other evidence, including other weapons. We have information about rifles being returned to snipers after months or years in evidence, suffering obvious signs of neglect, such as rust, surface scratches and broken components. One story of abuse related to us was the practice of the local crime lab of engraving the lab technician’s initials and case number into the receiver of the weapon.
Snipers go to great lengths to protect their weapon systems, treating them like the precision instruments they are. Mishandling and neglect of the weapon during an extended hold in evidence can have the result of damaging the rifle to the point of making it unfit for continued duty. We feel this is unnecessary and entirely avoidable.
We recognize the importance of collecting evidence as part of any police-involved shooting. However, we would like to recommend some special considerations in the wake of a sniper-related shooting, because of the unique circumstances involved.
What we are recommending is already the practice of several agencies we interviewed. To date, they have not encountered any problems with investigations, litigations or public perceptions. A policy addressing handling of SWAT weapons in general and sniper rifles in particular, can be developed with a cooperative effort between the agency and the State Attorney’s, District Attorney’s or Chief Prosecutor’s office.
Police-involved shootings are extraordinary events, which can cause incredible stress for the officer. One of the added stressors is the uncertainty of what is going to happen to him in the aftermath. Acknowledging the unique nature of police sniper shootings, and providing a uniform practice for post-incident handling of their special weapons, can pay untold dividends in eliminating one source of uncertainty.
The law enforcement sniper must thoroughly understand the topic of deadly force. While marksmanship skills are important, without the knowledge as to when to apply these skills the sniper can open himself to criminal and civil liabilities. While there are standards (set by case law, etc.) that, in general, are applicable to the issue of deadly force throughout the United States of America, a sniper’s individual jurisdiction may differ. It is important that this topic be examined as to how it applies under the statutes of your state. The principles laid out in the following hold to these general standards.
Just like any other law enforcement officer the sniper uses force for a very specific reason, to gain or regain control of a suspect’s behavior. The suspect dictates when the force will be used by acting in a manner, which endangers another and places them at risk of suffering great bodily harm or death. The suspect places the officer in a position where deadly force is the only "objectively reasonable" alternative, all other options have failed or would fail, and/or there is no time left to try another option. The officer by oath and duty is forced to use force to gain control.
The standard of "objectively reasonable" is set forth in the Supreme Court case of Graham v. Connor 1 . The case holds that the use of force be viewed "… from the perspective of a reasonable officer at the scene." Perspective is based on the level of training and experience of the officer. This means that you will be evaluated based on a standard set by your background and the individual situation. By his very nature a SWAT officer has greater training then the average officer thus it would be reasonable to assume that he would be held at a higher expectancy of understanding, it is thus imperative that this topic be well understood.
Officers justify the use of force by showing the suspect’s actions meet three elements and two contributing factors. The elements are known as the Attack Theory2 . These elements outline the ability and probability of the suspect causing great bodily harm or death. The three elements are:
Intent: verbal or implied to cause great bodily harm or death.
Weapon: a capability of inflicting great bodily harm or death.
Delivery system: the ability to impart the threatened harm.
The suspect who does not have all of the elements is not an immediate threat to anyone.
The first of the two factors involved is the imminence of the threat the suspect is making. To look at deadly force as an option, the threat must be happening now. The suspect who is threatening to shoot someone is making a threat, but if the gun is at home and the suspect has to go get it, the threat is not imminent. Other options (such as keeping the suspect from the gun) can be used to stop the threat.
The other options bring forth the second factor the officer must consider. All other options have to be precluded, being that they are tried and exhausted, or would, by their very nature, be ineffective. If deadly force is to be the only objectively reasonable option, there cannot be another effective way of eliminating the suspect’s threat.
Any officer with personal knowledge that these elements and factors are present in the current situation may be forced to use deadly force. This is no different for the sniper. By the very nature of the tactical situation the elements of the Attack Theory are generally fulfilled before the sniper is called to the situation. Barricaded gunman, hostage takers, suicidal parties, terrorist attacks, etc., are all situations which are outside the capability of the normal officer and require the response of officers with special training. In each of these situations, the suspect is threatening deadly force before the tactical officers arrival.
Although the elements are met, the tactical teams specialized training brings to the situation aspects which must be precluded. The team has at its disposal tools such as negotiation, gas, less then lethal munitions, etc. These options must be exhausted or precluded before deadly force becomes the only objectively reasonable option.
Upon arrival and before deployment the sniper must be given certain information. Included in this information must be clear Use of Force Orders. The sniper must be informed of the elements of the Attack Theory and the status of the two factors before deployment. Because the sniper will not always have all information which is available, the Use of Force Orders generally restrict the sniper from the use of deadly force except in limited situations.
The most common of these situations would be the same circumstance in which any other law enforcement officer uses deadly force, to stop an imminent threat to cause great bodily harm or death to himself or another, when any other option has been exhausted or would prove ineffective. This situation might be where a suspect comes out to murder a hostage and the sniper knows that no one else is in a position to stop the threat (imminence and preclusion). At that time the suspect has forced the sniper to use deadly force to save the life of the hostage.
A second situation would be in order to protect the greater community at large. If the suspect poses a risk of causing great bodily harm or death to the general public upon escaping from the tactical situation’s containment perimeter, the sniper may be forced to use deadly force to stop the suspect’s actions. In this regard the sniper is acting the role of community caretaker to protect the public. At this point, the general public is in greater danger if the suspect is allowed to continue into the community than if contained inside the perimeter. In this situation, a line must be drawn at a point just before where the suspect becomes a threat to the public. When the suspect is about to cross that line, the sniper must decide if deadly force is the only objectively reasonable option to stop the suspect. If it is, the sniper has no choice but to use force when the suspect crosses that predetermined line.
It is vital that the sniper adhere to the restrictions placed by these Use of Force Orders. Because of the complexity of tactical situations, it is not possible for the sniper to be informed of all the facts which may develop. The situation, as the sniper views it, may be more complex than it appears. For example, an unauthorized engagement of a suspect could cause other suspects to act violently against hostages. If a sniper fails to follow the specifics of the orders, he could compromise the safety of the operation, possibly causing unwanted injury to hostages, officers and even suspects.
On the opposite side of this issue, because of the volume of data, the speed at which it develops, and the difficulty in timely delivery of that data, a command officer may be forced to order the sniper to use deadly force when the sniper does not have personal knowledge of the imminence and preclusion involved in the situation. The Collective Knowledge doctrine holds that, given time and ability, the sniper would draw the same conclusions on the use of deadly force, knowing the totality of the circumstances. The command officer has the collective intelligence and makes the decision. The order to a sniper should be clearly defined by departmental procedure, so that the sniper knows the shot is based, not only on Collective Knowledge, but also on the command authority of a superior officer who has precluded the other objectively reasonable alternatives.
A command officer may have allowed negotiations to continue for countless hours, when suddenly the suspect states an intention to go into another room and kill a hostage. The command officer may have only enough time to order a shot before the suspect moves from the sniper’s view. Why the shot was ordered may not be immediately known, but if the sniper does not take the shot at that moment, basing justification on the authority of the command officer, a hostage may die.
No matter if the sniper is acting with personal knowledge or under Collective Knowledge, certain target requirements must always be satisfied. There must be positive target acquisition, identification, and isolation before taking the shot.
The use of deadly force is a topic which must be thoroughly examined as to how it applies in the sniper’s specific jurisdiction. The topic must then be discussed and understood by the sniper, the department’s training staff, administration, and the prosecuting attorney’s office. The prosecutor needs this information so the shooting can be quickly justified legally. The administration must understand so that its support and comment’s assist in the media coverage of the event. These factors are psychologically important to the sniper. It affects the way the sniper deals with any post-shooting trauma and helps eliminate reservations in the sniper’s mind which may cause hesitation at the moment of the shot.
The application of deadly force is the topic to which the greatest amount of training time is dedicated. Make sure all who are involved understand the specifics of when it is to be used.
Case Law References:
United States v Thomas J. Hensley
469 US 221, 83 L Ed 2d 604, 105 S Ct 675
Harold Whitely v Warden of Wyoming State Penitentiary
401 US 560, 28 L Ed 2d 306, 91 S Ct 1031
1 Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386. At 394 (1984)
2 Wisconsin Department of Justice Law Enforcement Standards Board. 1995. Demonstrate Defensive and Arrest Tactics. at 61. Madison, WI: Training and Standards Bureau
Barrel break-in!!! It never ceases to amaze me how this short phrase can conjure awe in the minds of inexperienced (those who have never done it) shooters and abject terror in the hearts of those who have. It isn’t that mystical and it isn’t really all that technical, but as fair warning to those who have never done it, barrel break-in is the most tedious, boring, frustrating, drive you straight up the nuthouse wall job there is. Just ask anyone who has done it. But, as in all such gun work, the end result will justify the tedium.
As with anything gun or chili related, if you ask twenty people how to do it, you’ll get twenty-five answers, at least. Barrel break-in is no different. There are those who just sit down and shoot hell out of a new barrel. They are the same folks who are satisfied when the rifle goes bang, most of the time, and the bullet hits somewhere inside that paper plate at about a hundred paces. If you are one of them, save yourself the time and find something else for your reading enjoyment. Now, for those of you who are serious about accuracy and aren’t particularly fond of spending your time cleaning the bore, you’re in luck. The good news, bad news part of this is that you’re going to get plenty of practice cleaning the bore. But, that extra time spent cleaning now, during this break-in process, is going to continually pay off down the line.
If a barrel is properly broken in, the amount of jacket fouling that would normally occur from firing a given number of rounds will usually be significantly reduced. That my friends means one thing, less time and effort needed to get the darn thing clean from that time on. Less time and effort cleaning means less chance of damaging the bore through aggressive cleaning methods, and more time to do other things. I am championship lazy when it comes to gun cleaning, I prefer building and shooting them. But, I spend the time to break-in the barrels on my rifles and it is because I’m lazy. I know that it’s going to pay off later.
An explanation of why it should be done, or better yet what is going on during this process, is in order and the following is my explanation of the why (what) and how of break-in.
Rifle barrels, even those custom made, hand lapped things of beauty from guys like Krieger and Obermeyer, are made of steel. Although the interior finish of these top-of-the-line barrels is second to none, they are still made of steel, and steel is not the smooth homogenous material you can easily be fooled into thinking it is. Steel is a crystalline substance. Good barrel steel is tough, high tensile strength material, which means, it does not cut like hot butter. Even when it is carefully machined, some tearing of the metal takes place and sharp edges and microscopic voids in the surface will be the result. Though it appears smooth to the naked eye, it really is not, especially from the viewpoint of the bullet. There is a lot going on in a real short time from that bullet’s point of view, traveling through the bore at give or take 2800 feet per second, started on its way by 50,000 plus pounds of pressure, with fire at its tail.
A bullet does not glide lightly along the surface of the bore. There is considerable pressure and friction between these two surfaces. Couple this friction with any surface roughness and you will leave behind additional powder and jacket fouling. The surface irregularities of a hand-lapped, custom barrel are miniscule when compared to the tooling marks left in most factory barrels. These easily visible crevices will capture and retain much more fouling. Fortunately, powder residue is relatively easy to remove and most bore solvents readily dissolve it, even from these microscopic gaps and larger crevices. Jacket fouling however, takes more aggressive chemicals and more time to dissolve and remove it, especially if it has been burnished into these tooling marks and microscopic spaces.
Simply put, what is being done when you fire the first rounds through any barrel is that the bullet is ironing or burnishing the bore surface. In essence, it is smoothing the surface by wearing and displacing some of the sharp edges left behind by the machining process. Getting the bullet to do that is no particular challenge, however getting it to do so without embedding jacket fouling into the bore, at the same time, is the trick and our goal. Every round fired will leave fouling residues. Pressure, abrasion, friction, and heat play the supporting roles in this process. Shooters in a hurry to fire lots of rounds out of their new rifle frequently have something to do with it.
But bore condition is only part of the problem because the greatest potential to foul, especially in a custom lapped barrel, actually comes from the throat. The throat is a funnel shaped area of the bore that extends from the neck end of the chamber to a point where full rifle land dimension is reached. The throat is where the bullet actually enters the barrel proper and begins to engage the rifling. It is the controlled smoothing, during break-in, of this freshly machined surface, that is so important
Although there are some other processes, chambers are normally cut by reamers, which by necessity must be turned inside the bore to cut the chamber and throat. This will leave cutting marks and surface irregularities that are perpendicular to the path of the bullet. Even when a chambering reamer is carefully ground and honed, the reaming action itself will leave microscopic sharp edges on the walls of the throat. They will act much like a file as the bullet, in an atmosphere of intense heat and pressure, passes over them. Fine pieces of bullet jacket material will be scraped off and because of the intense pressure and heat from the burning propellant, these jacket particles will be turned into a plasma. As the bullet passes down the barrel, this plasma will cool. As it does so, jacket material will be deposited on the surface of the bore. This process of deposition of jacket material farther down the bore often misleads people into believing there is a problem with the bore in that area, because that is where they are noticing the most fouling buildup. If you immediately fire another round, some of this material will be burnished into the steel and the bore fouling process will have begun in earnest. Removal of jacket fouling that is embedded into the bore by this burnishing process will be much more difficult than that which is simply a surface deposit.
It is critical then, to reduce the fouling from these first rounds, because that is when the throat surface is the roughest and the greatest amount of jacket material will be available to be burnished (therefore mechanically locking this material) into the surface of the steel.
All metals have an affinity for themselves and jacket material is no different. Fouling from firing consecutive rounds will readily adhere to this mechanically locked in jacket material resulting in an accelerated deposition of jacket fouling. There really is no practical way to stop this process of jacket deposition other than not shooting, so we have to settle for efficient ways of reducing it. Breaking-in a new barrel is the perfect starting point because it conditions the bore when it will have the greatest affect.
Once the barrel has been broken-in, two things will have been achieved.
1. The throat has now been worn smooth, so there is less metal being scraped off the bullet as it passes through the throat. The throat will continue to wear over the life of the barrel and eventually become quite rough near the end of its useful life. If you plan on shooting your rifle, there is nothing you can do to stop it. So, shoot it, which is why replacement barrels are made. There are some cleaning methods that will prolong the smoothness of the throat. Abrasive bore cleaning, IF DONE PROPERLY, is the most effective. However, special precautions must be taken when using abrasive bore cleaners. We’ll discuss that at another time.
2. The bore has also been burnished or ironed. Any rough machining edges will have been smoothed or dulled, thus having less scraping or erosive affect on the bullet. It will also reduce the size of tears or crevices thus reducing containment areas.
What that means to the shooter is reduced jacket fouling. This directly equates to less time and effort needed to fully clean the barrel after shooting it. As we are all aware, the only way to get consistent first round accuracy is to make sure that the bore is in the same condition every time that first round is fired. Consistency in one thing will lead to consistency in others. So while you are carrying out this break-in process you will also hopefully be establishing a cleaning regimen that, if followed, will provide you that consistency.
You now know why, so, lets get to how.
If you are serious about properly breaking-in a new barrel, before you ever even think of loading that brand spanking new rifle, you’ve got some cleaning to do. There are cutting oil residues and fouling residues from the proof firing that all firearms must pass, that you must get out of the bore before it is cleaned down to bare metal. So, following the usual safety precautions about loaded guns and ammunition and solvents and fire, etc., assemble all of your cleaning gear. Find a comfortable place to work, because you are going to be at this awhile. I recommend that you do not perform this preliminary cleaning at the range. There will be a strong inclination to hurry it along so you can start slinging lead, which will compromise the thoroughness of this critical first cleaning. So, sit down, grit your teeth and THOROUGHLY clean the bore.
All cleaning should be done from the breech end of the barrel, if possible. Even then, special care must be taken to avoid contact with the crown. It is also a good idea to prevent solvents, etc. from getting into bedding areas, trigger mechanisms and on scope lenses.
Use patches and solvent and brush it only if you must. I don’t like brushes and will only use them to aid cleaning when I am forced to by lack of time. It is just too darned easy to scrape the crown and do damage when churning a brush back and forth through the bore, especially when solvents can and will do the job on their own. If you insist on using a brush, use only phosphor bronze, do so carefully, and use it wet with solvent. However, do not wet it with the aggressive copper solvents that should be used for the actual break-in process. Those solvents will not only attack the powder residue and jacket fouling in the bore, they will also attack the copper brush. This will leave the tattletale blue green coloration behind that we’re going to use as an indicator and you will never know when the bore is clean. DO NOT use stainless steel brushes, ever, no matter who says they are safe. Once they have scratched the barrel, it is too late. So, spend some extra time and get the barrel really clean with just the solvent and patches. Continue the cleaning process until you are getting no color on your drying patches, other than the color of the solvent itself. Be sure to let the solvent sit in the bore ten or fifteen minutes before dry patching, so it has time to work.
After you have finished dry patching the bore, some solvent residues will remain. Soak a clean patch with lighter fluid (naptha) or isopropyl alcohol and run this through the bore. Make sure this patch also wipes the entire chamber. Then run a couple more dry patches to dry the bore and chamber. These should show no color. If they do, continue cleaning. When I told you this was going to be tedious, I was not joking. It is imperative that this initial cleaning procedure is thorough because it is the foundation for the entire process.
After you are certain the barrel and chamber are clean and dry, you are ready to begin firing. Depending on the degree of humidity in your area, do not allow the barrel to sit for more than a day or so in this unprotected condition. With no oil in the bore, it is in a virtually perfect condition to promote rusting. Rust can create all sorts of problems, so avoid it at all costs.
Assuming you are now at a safe range, carefully sight in on your target and fire ONE (1) single round, no more. Make every round count. That way, as you continue the process, you can make sight corrections or confirm that the rifle is grouping well. As soon as that round has been fired, go through the entire cleaning procedure again. Make sure to get plenty of solvent into the barrel as soon after firing as possible. The bore will be warmed from firing and this will accelerate the solvents chemical action.
For this cleaning, you should be using a strong copper solvent, such as Sweet’s 7.62. Hoppes #9 Benchrest is a little tamer, but it will still do the job. However, it may take longer. Don’t allow these solvents to sit in the bore for more than fifteen minutes. They will gradually be neutralized and lose their aggressive action on the jacket material fouling the barrel. I do not recommend them for long-term storage. I don’t believe that they offer enough protection against corrosion. So, after ten to fifteen minutes, dry patch the barrel and then follow with another saturated patch. Do this as often as it takes to get no blue or green coloration when pushing the first dry patch through the bore. I prefer the more aggressive, high ammonia content, Sweet’s 7.62 for break-in or removal of heavy fouling. Use it with care. Above all, make certain you do not mix or interchange Shooters Choice with any ammonia bearing bore solvent. It will form a corrosive agent that will eat your barrel.
Yeah, I know it’s boring and you’re at the range and you came here to shoot and this really doesn’t seem like this is all that important and you really want to shoot and… I understand completely and to avoid doing a halfhearted job of this, bring another gun along so you can shoot something, anything, while you’re waiting for the solvent to do its job. OK? Just don’t hurry the process.
And don’t forget about that soaking barrel while you’re having all that fun slinging lead out of something else. Continue this shoot one and then clean thoroughly process until you’ve fired at least ten (10) rounds. If you’re doing it right with a standard factory barrel, that should chew up a few hours of your time. It has taken me over an hour between the first two rounds on some factory barrels. It is very important that thorough cleaning take place between each round of these first rounds, so do not rush things or skip right into shooting groups. If you do, you are just wasting your time.
You should notice, as you fire more rounds, that the cleaning becomes progressively easier and takes less time. So, keep at it. IF you have the patience, continue at this pace until you’ve fired 20 rounds. You’ll be ready for the padded room by then, but hang in there; you’re getting close to finishing. Follow this with a couple of 2-shot groups, and clean after each group. Then fire a couple of 3-shot groups and clean after each of those groups. Finally, fire one or two 5 shot groups and clean after each group. Firing groups helps complete the process because the barrel reaches higher temperatures than when firing single rounds, so don’t skip this part of the procedure.
Another benefit of this entire process is, by the time you have finished, you will have fired, at the minimum, 15 cold bore rounds. This should give you a pretty good idea of where your cold bore zero is. Follow-up groups will then show you if your rifle exhibits any warming or fouling shifts. Your barrel should now be broken-in and ready to give you longer, much easier cleaning life than if you had not suffered through this test of your patience and resolve. It is best to avoid long strings of fire between cleanings, if at all possible. While a barrel is still relatively new, the first 200 rounds or so, clean it as often as you can tolerate it. It will continue this break-in process, but at the cost of some additional time. By now, you are probably way past being ready for a couple of cold ones, so treat yourself. You earned it.
A special caution is appropriate here and it will also address a common problem and frequently-asked question. Make absolutely certain you carefully dry the bore AND the chamber before firing any round. If you do not, you will more than likely experience difficulty lifting the bolt handle after firing. This can also happen when firing on rainy or humid days.
The reason the bolt is hard to lift is as follows: When a round is fired, pressure in the neighborhood of 50,000+ pounds builds rapidly in the brass cartridge case. Cartridge brass, being a springy material, is then forced firmly against the wall of the chamber. It stretches to fill the chamber all around to seal in the propellant gases. It also grows in length to conform to the available headspace of the chamber it is fired in and will reflect that size upon extraction. The pressure will force it to grip the chamber. This gripping action reduces some of the thrust or impact the base of the case has on the face of the bolt. If the chamber is lubricated, this gripping action can be reduced to a point where the case is forcefully slammed into the face of the bolt. Repeated firing in this manner can, in some cases, set the bolt back on the lugs hard enough to gradually increase headspace. Bolt and/or receiver lug setback can eventually destroy your rifle. Avoid it at all costs.
Most bolts have a small area that offers no support to the base of the case. In the Remington 700, it is the hole for the spring-loaded ejector plunger. The slamming of the case into the bolt face can extrude some of the case material into this hole, which forms a small lump on the base of the case. The casing cannot move forward in the chamber to allow the bolt to clear this lump, because firing pressure has caused the shoulder of the case to conform to the shape and size of the chamber.
So, when you try to lift the bolt handle to cycle the rifle, extra effort will be needed to shear off or displace this raised lump of metal. To prove this to yourself, compare rounds that extract normally to those that extract with effort and you will see a shiny little raised circle on the base of the difficult cases that perfectly coincides with the size and location of the ejector plunger. On other rifles, look at the face of the bolt to determine where this unsupported area is located. That is where the shiny spot will be.
Dry your chamber and ammo and you won’t have to worry about it. Shoot on a rainy day and you won’t be plagued any longer by questions concerning the extra oomph needed to operate your bolt. For those who shoot auto loaders, this is the primary reason that normally reliable rifles sometimes fail to cycle in the wet. On a manually operated rifle, the shooter simply applies enough force to make it work, no matter what it takes. On automatics, there is only just so much energy available to cycle the action. If the bolt needs more energy to open on a tight case, where is it going to get it? Either way, keep your chamber and ammunition dry and you shouldn’t experience this problem.
Now go shoot some rounds and enjoy yourself. You’re going to have a lot more time to do things other than cleaning.
One of the many important facets of a supportable Police Sniper rifle system is that of trigger pull weight. What trigger weight is an acceptable one for safety and reliability and yet won’t hamper the proper application of marksmanship skills and precision shot placement? What is the trigger pull of your duty rifle?
Having a supportable rifle system requires some serious consideration in terms of the trigger sub-system. This applies to production and custom-built rifles if used by a police officer.
If a police sniper is required to actively engage a target, he/she always prepares, plans, and trains for a successful outcome. In most cases the tactical intervention by a police sniper is very successful and often the tactical solution that saves human lives.
In those cases where a police sniper related shooting results in the injury or death of an intended and authorized target, the resulting criminal investigation will most likely have a limited scope. The investigation most certainly will focus on the officer's belief that deadly force was reasonable and necessary given the totality of the circumstances and knowledge at the time. Additionally there may be a question of whether of not the officer using the deadly force was properly trained in making a reasonable decision.
Most post-shooting investigations of this nature are often swiftly concluded and where substantiated found to be justifiable and closed via legal authority.
In those rare cases where a police sniper related shooting results in collateral injury or death to an unintended target, the resulting investigation will analyze all aspects of the incident. In addition to the above, the scope may be broadened to include amongst other things, all facets of the tactical plan, involvement and interaction of others, communication issues, command decisions, and the rifle system used.
If a “bad” shot is somehow attributed to the intentional or unintentional manipulation of the trigger, the trigger weight may become a significant issue. A rifle system that has a trigger pull that is too light can result in increasing the possibility of a premature shot or one that is initiated prior to the proper application of the fundamentals or perfected aim. Likewise a heavy trigger can result in an officer struggling with the proper execution of the trigger pull and may result in a “pulled shot”
A trigger weight that is unreasonably light or one that is excessively heavy is a liability to the mission, the individual officer, the department and the municipality. A trigger weight that is unreasonably light or excessively heavy increases the possibility that it will result in tragedy for all involved.
In terms of marksmanship, the most important fundamental for precision shooting is the proper execution of pulling the trigger. The skillful manipulation of the trigger is critical in applying all of the other fundamentals during the integrated act of precision shooting. If the officer has done everything else correctly, and executes an improper trigger pull, then it will adversely effect the accuracy of the shot downrange.
Police snipers are not competition shooters when they’re on a call-out. Police snipers however can learn lessons from any source; including competition shooters. Some of the finest shots in the world involve themselves in the CMP program and National Match competitions. For this type of competition shooters are required to have trigger weights of not less than four and a half pounds (4.5 lbs.) set on their rifles. Each rifle is carefully checked on the line for trigger weight standards prior to National level competition.
The course of fire “across-the-course” involves position shooting with slow and rapid-fire stages over distances of 200, 300, and 600 yards. Competitive shooters are consistently able to achieve minute of angle accuracy or better under these standardized conditions. The trigger weight of 4.5 lbs. is not a deterrent to achieve this level of marksmanship excellence.
Many officers are under the misconception that a very “light” trigger pull will help them shoot better – somehow make them more accurate. This is not true; the fundamentals are the fundamentals. In terms of the shooter, the potential for an accurate shot will be determined in their ability to properly apply the fundamentals or not on each shot.
Trigger weight is dependent on the type of design that it is based upon. Typically precision rifle triggers are either single stage or double (two) stage. The Remington 700 series is an example of a rifle with a typical single stage trigger.
The American Sniper Association (ASA) recommends that a police sniper rifle with a single stage trigger design have a preset factory trigger weight of no less than three and a half (3.5) pounds and no more than five (5) pounds.
Manufacturers of high quality police sniper-grade rifles should be capable of setting their trigger pull within these weight limits. Equally important to the shooter is that the trigger breaks cleanly with no perceptible slack, creep or drag.
Remington claims their police sniper rifle triggers are set at the factory in a range from three and a half (3.5) to five and a half (5.5) pounds. There is a factory sealant used on the trigger assembly that enables factory workers to determine if the trigger weight adjustments have been changed. Every rifle that is received into the plant is specifically checked to see if original factory settings have been maintained or altered.
Those production trigger mechanisms that have been “readjusted” to something other than factory settings will result in a voided warrantee, with a resulting loss of product liability and a manufacturer who will not stand behind that rifle trigger in a court of law. A good rule of thumb is to “stay stock” when utilizing a production factory rifle.
Remington’s armorer school and their accompanying student manual relates the following on the trigger housing assembly - “NOTE: FACTORY SERVICE IS REQUIRED FOR ALL TRIGGER HOUSING ASSEMBLY RELATED PROBLEMS. RETURN TO THE FACTORY FOR SERVICE.” It is made clear that the armorer’s school does not teach students to adjust the trigger assembly in any way.
Mr. Ken Nickerson, a veteran Remington Police Armorer Instructor, has indicated that those agencies utilizing older Remington police sniper rifles may request that they be adjusted to the factory minimum. The rifles need to be shipped to the plant for factory adjustment, with a written request for this work to be completed. A nominal charge will be made for the adjustment.
Those agencies interested in taking advantage of this service can contact the Remington Arms Co., Inc. at P.O. Box 700, Madison, NC 27025-0700. Telephone 1-800-243-9700 FAX: 1-336-548-7801. Law Enforcement point of contact is Mr. Ken Nickerson (Ext# 8783).
In order to assure a trigger weight that is conducive to precision shooting and police sniper applications, law enforcement agencies may also want to consider specifying the acceptable trigger weight in their bid specifications when purchasing new rifles for their police snipers.
If the department has chosen a rifle that is custom made, check that the trigger settings are within recommended standards and ask the manufacturer in writing if they will stand behind their product should liability be incurred. If an officer discovers their custom service rifle has a trigger weight less than 3.5 pounds, or heavier than 5 pounds, that officer or agency wishing to adopt ASA recommended standards should send that rifle back to the manufacturer for adjustment accordingly with a written request.
As of 2007, Remington has a newly redesigned trigger mechanism for use in the 700 rifle that comes standard with current production. Presently the Remington armorer’s school instructs police armorers in the replacement and adjustment of these new components. The one-day class not only instructs the armorer to change out older triggers to the new generation but also certifies them to adjust trigger weight. Remington recommends that the new generation trigger be set at 4 pounds for service use.
When a police sniper must take a shot, he/she will always be under stress and tremendous pressure to ensure that it is precisely placed on an authorized, pre-selected and positively identified target. Police snipers must be able to make that shot while under these extreme pressures and the stress of trying to save a human life. Hence the need for a trigger that is neither unduly light nor heavy.
With any shot there will be a variety of facets and degrees of “compounding error” that will work against the accuracy of the shot. Having “doubts” and a lack of confidence in one’s trigger need not be one of these factors. With the proper training and equipment officers can succeed in these difficult tactical situations.
A rifle with a trigger weight that is measured in ounces rather than pounds can only invite disaster. A premature shot, made prior to the officer perfecting his/her aim could have serious consequences. Conversely, struggling with an excessively heavy trigger works against properly applying the most important fundamental, proper trigger control. Consequently consistent precision accuracy will be adversely effected.
An officer’s confidence in his/her system and ability to consistently apply the fundamentals may be adversely effected from either of these undesirable conditions. Having the proper weight and sear engagement factory-set on the trigger assembly can help to establish a supportable duty system, instill shooter confidence and ensure consistent accuracy.
Every police sniper knows that precision matters when lives are on the line. Call-outs are neither a competition nor a time to be struggling with or doubting a trigger pull. Once the shot is out, there is no calling it back. What is the trigger pull of your duty rifle?
Ken Nickerson, Remington Arms
Norm Chandler, Iron Brigade Armory
Charlie Milazzo, Custom Gunsmith
Al Warner, Warner Tool Co.
Edward F. Gross, Crosshairs Inc.
A Training Aid
Provided by Snipercraft
Listed are the essential skills a police sniper must possess and be able to demonstrate on demand in order to be considered operationally ready. The design and purpose of in-service training will be to impart, maintain, and periodically measure these skills. Additional skills can and should be added to this task list as the minimums are mastered.
Each sniper must be able to:
1 Physically carry all necessary equipment unassisted. This includes rifle, ammunition, load-bearing equipment, sidearm, radio, and operator-selected optional equipment.
2 Execute individual movement skills. This includes walking, crawling, climbing and running. These need to be demonstrated while carrying all necessary equipment.
3 Make full and correct use of all sniper-related equipment. This includes knowing full nomenclature, assembly and disassembly procedures, field repairs and service.
4 Communicate with teammates and team leaders, clearly conveying accurate information, both verbally and in writing.
5 Observe in detail events happening around them, and accurately recall them.
6 Implement the principles of camouflage, successfully concealing himself and his equipment from visual detection.
7 Recite textbook information as it applies to sniper-related topics, including, but not limited to ballistics, policy and procedure, terminology, and equipment.
8 Accurately estimate distances without mechanical aides, utilizing any of several manual techniques.
Each sniper must be able to:
1 Accurately fire a shot on target from a cold, clean weapon. The standard is placement within a human cranial vault sized target area, on demand, without warm-ups or practice shots. This must be demonstrated at various distances.
2 Accurately fire a shot on target while wearing a gas mask. The standard is placement within a human cranial vault sized target area, on demand, without warm-ups or practice shots. This must be demonstrated at various distances.
3 Accurately fire a shot on target using his non-dominant shoulder. The standard is placement within a human cranial vault sized target area, on demand, without warm-ups or practice shots. This must be demonstrated at various distances.
4 Accurately fire a shot on target in simultaneous coordination with another sniper. The standard is placement within a cranial vault sized target area, on demand, without warm-ups or practice shots. This must be demonstrated at various distances.
5 Accurately fire a shot on a moving target. The standard is placement within a human cranial vault sized target inside of 100 yards, within a human sized torso in profile inside of 200 yards. This must be demonstrated on demand without warm-ups or practice shots.
6 Accurately fire a shot on target, without hitting a hostage. The standard is placement within a partially exposed human cranial vault sized area, without striking a hostage target placed in close proximity. This must be demonstrated on demand, without warm-up or practice shots. This must be demonstrated at various distances.
7 Accurately fire a shot on target from a standing unsupported, kneeling unsupported, and seated unsupported shooting position. The standard is placement within a human-sized head and torso, on demand, without warm-up or practice shots. This must be demonstrated at various distances.
8 Accurately fire a shot on target in each of the above situations in a low light environment. This is to be accomplished making use of their standard daylight equipment (not night vision) and ambient light. Strategies involving artificial light, flashlights, headlights, etc., are allowed and encouraged. The standards for each skill will remain the same. These will be demonstrated at various distances.
9 Fire accurate shots after making proper decisions in Shoot – Don’t Shoot training exercises. The standard is shooting only at targets identified as hostile, while refraining from shooting at targets identified as friendly. This must be demonstrated on demand, without warm-up or practice shots. This must be demonstrated at various distances.
All range plans are tentative and subject to times availability of facilities. Some drills (sniper initiated assaults and sniper covered approaches) need to be coordinated with the entry team. Others will be conducted off-site, as noted. Range training should be conducted in eight-hour blocks. Maintenance and physical training and travel time is included in those eight hours. Training items listed here are considered necessary to meet the requirements of the Essential Skills Task List.
APRIL Long Distance Range
OCTOBER Long Distance Range
Sniper Training Schedule – Tactics
Mock Callouts are scheduled for March and September Tactic Training days
Each tactics-training day will be structured as follows. The first four blocks will be repeated each month. Elective topics and practical tasks will be plugged in after the mandatory training blocks have been covered. The electives and practical topics may be dictated by the availability of specific facilities and training assets.
FIXED MONTHLY TRAINING AGENDA ITEMS
The videotape training sessions will cover instructional tapes and incident debriefings. The classroom blocks will be a systematic course of instruction covering sniper-related knowledge and topics, as required by the Essential Skills Task List.. Topics will include, but not be limited to:
This document is to be used as a framework for designing and writing a formal sniper team Mission Statement and Standard Operational Procedures (SOP) to augment existing policies. Feel free to modify the document as necessary to meet agency requirements and format.
It is the mission of this unit
to assist in bringing about the safe and peaceful resolution of critical
incidents through stealth, tactics and skills, by providing real-time
information and protective overwatch for all on scene personnel, both law
enforcement and civilian
Purpose: To explain the role and responsibilities of the Sniper / Observer
As employed in the police tactical team applications, the role of the Sniper / Observer will be strictly limited to two functions:
1. The Sniper / Observer will use his specialized training, positioning and sight enhancing equipment to observe and report real-time intelligence to his teammates and on-scene command personnel. Since the Sniper / Observer plays such an integral role in intelligence gathering and team protection, he will be deployed as a part of all tactical operations.
2. The Sniper / Observer will provide protective overwatch to his team, other officers, civilians and / or hostages by bringing precision fire against designated human targets, with the intent to immediately terminate the dangerous actions of that designated target. In this action, state statutes relating to the use of deadly force by police officers, as well as any and all applicable departmental policies will regulate the sniper’s decision.
Purpose: To explain Rules of Engagement as applied to the Sniper / Observer
The Sniper / Observer will be authorized to use deadly force against an individual in the following circumstances:
1. To defend himself, another police officer, hostage, or other civilian personnel from the imminent threat of death or great bodily harm.
2. As part of an organized assault by tactical team elements. In this event, the Sniper / Observer would use deadly force against designated targets or targets of opportunity, as the situation or assault plan dictates. These targets would be prioritized and engaged based on the danger they pose to other team members, hostages or civilian personnel.
3. To prevent the escape from a tactical situation’s containment perimeter, if the sniper feels the subject would pose a greater danger of death or great bodily harm to the general public if allowed to continue his actions or succeed in his escape.
Utilization of these Rules of Engagement is subject to meeting or exceeding the standards for use of deadly force as delineated by state statute and departmental policy.
Purpose: To list training requirements for the Sniper / Observer
All training planned and done by the Sniper / Observer will be documented in writing. The Sniper Team Leader will maintain records of that training. The Sniper / Observer will maintain individual shooting records, in the form of Shooting Data Books.
Purpose: To list selection criteria and process for the Sniper / Observer
Purpose: To list qualification and performance standards for the Sniper / Observer
To achieve and maintain operational status as a Sniper / Observer, each sniper team member will be required to meet the following standards: