Legalities and Policies

Spec Ops Shooting

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The most basic difference benveen a police and a military sniper is how each employs deadly force.

No law officer would ever take a shot—which is deadly force—unless a suspect is a threat to himself, another police officer, a bystander, or a hostage. But quite the opposite applies to a military sniper in combat. He readily will engage a confirmed enemy soldier, and his target need not be an immediate threat to anyone. The hostile soldier's mere existence is a threat to our forces, it is understood, and the Law of Land Warfare allows engaging without warning.

Provided it is a confirmed enemy soldier and it is a time of war, the military sniper has no legal concern whatsoever. To die degree he must use judgment, it is to analyze the tactical situation and act wisely while under stress. The police sniper, however, must keep in mind that his every move must be justifiable and that he especially will have to "articulate" the threat he perceived to legitimize his shot.

Department or agency policies will vary, but it is generally recognized that a police sniper's authority to fire need not require an order from an on-scene supervisor. It should be generated by the situation itself. Ask yourself, "If I have a pistol and I am 10 feet from the suspect, can I justify using deadly force?" Should the answer be, "Yes," your only distinction as a sniper is the distance, not the justification.

As a practical matter, however, you most likely would not engage prior to the on-scene commander issuing a "green light," because the boss will have wanted to explore other options using less force or posing less danger to a hostage.

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