Not so much a ‘Sniper’ as an Observer gathering vital intelligence, a person who is capable of taking an accurate stopping shot if required – the Rifle/Observer.

I would like to introduce you to the role of the ‘police sniper’ during Critical Incidents. In the right hands this weapon can be of great importance during an incident where intelligence and precise control need to be established and enhanced.

As the director of training for the Rifle Team, on our full time SWAT unit in the UK, it became apparent that the professional skills of the Police Sniper – referred to as the Rifle Officer from this moment on, were being ignored out of ignorance by Commanders. I took about re-educating the supervisors and commanders responsible for the safe resolution of Critical Incidents where our officers are deployed to face potentially life threatening situations.

The initial approach was to define the role of the RIFLE OFFICER – the word ‘Sniper’ painted a picture of a killer with other words and phrases associated to the role as murderer, assassin, one-shot-one-kill and so on …. These were not words that Commanders would look at favorably when you asked to deploy the ‘Snipers’.

We removed the word ‘Sniper’ from all documents and terminology and replaced it with Rifle/Observer putting the emphasis on the Observer side of the role – the vast amount of intelligence which the Observer can obtain is invaluable to any situation where commanders need to make critical decisions on best intelligence and thus carry out their threat assessment selecting the appropriate tactical option to safely resolve a given situation.

The Rifle /Observer then creates a picture of the professional, intelligence gatherer, safely and covertly enhancing any containment of a critical situation and on the rare occasion can, if so required, take a precise shot through glass barriers if necessary, though the correctly trained operator offers so much more than this.

I can think of at least eleven (11) reasons why you should deploy a Rifle/Observer at any critical incident. Can you think of as many? If not I suggest you speak to YOUR operators and discuss what they can do for you and the benefits of deploying them as soon as possible or wait till the end of this article and I will discuss my list.

Equipment for Rifle/Observer

It is essential that all operators have their own weapon as scope settings and setup of the weapon are a fundamental part of the Rifle/Observer package. Preferred caliber of choice for most Law Enforcement operators of a Sniper rifle is the 0.308” (7.62mm). It has the stopping power AND the distance available during which most operators would be highly effective.


All I will say about the training of a Rifle/Observer is this … the more training you can provide them with … the better they will be and the more reliability and professionalism they can offer
you. The Military Sniper skills have their place but may have a different objective than the Law Enforcement operator.


  • The operator must possess the following skills to be effective. Any less may compromise their position and ultimately their life:
  • Shooting – First class shot. (1st round head shot @200 yds)
  • Observation
  • Recording Information
  • Judging Distance
  • Stalking
  • Rural camouflage and concealment
  • Urban camouflage and concealment
  • Map reading
  • Communications

Basic Qualities

  • Good Physical condition
  • Excellent eyesight
  • Preferably a non-smoker / no ailments – could compromise the operators position
  • Right personality
  • Reliable and Independent

Rules of Engagement

Independent Action applies (default) – justifies their own actions in each given situation

No Independent Action – there are times when operators MUST not act upon their own initiative due to a bigger picture. The caveat being if the operators life is in imminent danger. e.g. Hostage situation where several hostage takers are at the scene but they are not all under control.

Coordinated Shot – A Senior Commander can authorize when shots MAY be fired but such authorization will not exempt an individual from their responsibility. No general rule can be laid down and much will depend upon the circumstances of individual incidents. However, an example of when it may be proper for a senior officer to give an authority to shoot would be coordinated fire by Police Rifle/Observers in a terrorist / hostage situation.

Coordinated Shot Situations-Glass Barrier – 0.308” caliber (most accurate available through glass barriers). Two Rifle Officers firing simultaneously will guarantee a hit Multiple Targets – Several ‘Rifle’ positions may be ordered to fire simultaneously Coordinated Shot – Ideally a technical system should be used (expensive). If not available a verbal system should be in place (using radio system). Commanders must be aware of the system AND practice with the Rifle/Observers as often as possible. Train most for the situation you face least and hope you never use those skills … for when you do use them you will be grateful for the prior preparation! Here is my list of roles and the benefits the Rifle/Observer can provide:

  • Rifle Tactical Advisor – when and why should they be deployed on spontaneous incidents AND pre-planned operations.
  • Containment – contrary to popular belief the Rifle/Observer is just as comfortable close to a scene as they are 400 yds away. Most of my deployments were less than 100 yds and as close as 30 yds at times.
  • Observations – with the enhanced scopes and night vision equipment which Observers have access to they enhance any intelligence gathering exercise.
  • Protection – provide a safe zone for visiting dignitaries in their anti-sniper role.
  • Humane Destruction of Animals – with the correct training these operators can dispatch all animals which are injured or causing a danger to the public. Having access to the right caliber ammunition is very important.
  • Armed Besieged Criminals – A precision shot through a glass barrier is available if required.
  • Dynamic Intervention support – any planned entry by officers should have  the support of a Rifle/Observer providing cover for the approach.
  • Covert Operations – providing cover for under cover officers and surveillance.
  • Special Operations – one of the only viable tactical options to deal with suicide bombers. Head shots are essential when dealing with such incidents.
  • Hijacking – if you have the potential to be involved with aircraft, train or other large vehicle being hijacked then the Rifle/Observer is again invaluable.
  • Assisting other Agencies – the Fire departments across Europe, on occasion, call upon the skills of the Rifle/Observer to deal with highly dangerous and volatile situations involving chemicals and gases where a round into a barrel can release gases and allow Fire officers to approach safely.

By Keith Suddes MBA, CertEd

(Advanced Police Sniper Instructor)

Keith Suddes CertEd, MBA – Tactical Officer, UK : 1992 – 2007. Director of Training, Institute of Law Enforcement and Emergency Services Education