SWAT Team Commander (Retired)

SWAT Team Commander (Retired)

Captain Nick

Menlo Park, CA

Male, 58

I served as a Police Officer, Corporal, Inspector, Sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain from 1980 to June, 2011 in the SF Bay Area. In 1994, I was assigned to a regional SWAT Team as a Team Leader and Sniper. I became a Team Commander in 1999. When I retired, I was the senior Commander and Sniper Team Commander for the largest regional team in California. I now teach Administration of Justice at Skyline College and I'm the On-Screen Team Lead for www.GuardAmerican.com, a firearms training website.

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40 Questions


Last Answer on September 10, 2013

Best Rated

What does it look like when you're wearing night-vision goggles? Has technology made it almost like seeing in daylight, or is it still just low-quality black and green?

Asked by Bri90 over 5 years ago

When I retired, the night vision we were using was much higher definition than the old, grainy green First Generation NV we used to have. The picture is more of a black-and-white image now, and very clear. There may be even higher definition NV in use by some departments or the military by this time...the rate that technology is advancing is truly amazing.

How do snipers adjust their aim when they have to shoot through a glass door or window, and isn't it really hard to gauge if the glass is at an angle?

Asked by JerParker over 5 years ago

Great question, Jer.

Snipers try to position themselves at right angles to the windows and doors they are responsible for covering, and this is one of the primary reasons. Of course, that's not always possible. The next consideration is how far inside the glass the suspect is located. If he's close to the glass, the bullet won't deflect far enough at slight angles to make a difference. If he's deeper in the room (several feet from the glass) then the deflection of the bullet can be enough to miss the kill shot.

Two additional measures used are the simultaneous shots taken by two snipers. In this case, two snipers make simultaneous shots at the same point of aim based on a countdown procudure. While the goal is to have the two shots go off at the same time, they are a fraction of a second apart due to human reflexes. The first bullet to hit the glass breaks it, and the second shot has no resistance or deflection as it passes through the shattered glass. It doesn't matter which shot is first or second; they are both aimed at the same spot, so the second one hits the mark.

Lastly, we have special ammunition designed specifically to reduce deflection on glass penetration. The very soft tip bites and drills through glass with minimal deflecting. The sniper carries this ammo in his backpack or vest and will select it if there is much of an angle through glass to deal with.

On SWAT, do you only get the best of the best of the best officers, or did the occasional hothead or delinquent sometimes sneak through?

Asked by TrophyWife over 5 years ago

Hello Trophy wife!

I discussed the SWAT selection process in an answer I posted yesterday (not sure if you saw it) but to briefly summarize, we really try to make sure that no cops, whether on SWAT or not, are hotheads or deliquents. But since we are just plain old humans, sometimes one sneaks through the hiring cracks. It is extremely rare for anyone to make it onto a SWAT Team unless they are very calm under extreme pressure and have very good records as police officers. In the remote instance that an unsuitable cop made it to the team, he would be very quickly tossed from it. Peer accountablility and devotion to the wellbeing of the whole team is required of any SWAT operator, and a person without these traits wouldn't last a minute.

How much protection do those bomb disposal suits really provide? Are they designed to be able to withstand the full force of a blast from as close as 5 or 10 feet away? (And are the guys in the suit just the bravest SOBs on the planet??)

Asked by RogParsons over 5 years ago

One thing I will never do is pretend to be an "expert" in an area I'm not fully versed in. Explosives is one of those areas. I can tell you from my limited knowledge on the subject is that typical bomb squad suits are basically giant bullet resistant vests made from the same materials, but that cover the entire body, not just the torso. As such, they are good at stopping flying fragments and shrapnel common to small explosive devices. I can also tell you that what kills most people close to an explosion is the concussion of the rapidly expanding shock wave, which can liquify internal organs without leaving a mark on the skin. If the blast is big enough, and the bomb tech is close enough, the suit won't help much. So, yes, they ARE the bravest SOBs on the planet! BTW, I would be delighted to hear from a military EOD specialist or police bomb tech if my information is incorrect. Learning is never-ending.

P.S. One of my favorite T-shirts is the one that says, "I'm a Bomb Tech. If I'm running, try to keep up."

What's the most unconventional situation your team ever got called to handle, and what kind of improvising did you have to do?

Asked by LooseG00se over 5 years ago

One of the reasons that SWAT Teams train so much and in so many different possible scenarios is so that the number of "unconventional" situations are few and far between. Every call-out is unique and presents its own challenges. It could be a high-risk warrant service, an armed, barricaded suspect incident, a hostage rescue, a presidential protection detail...I will have to think about one that strikes me as the most unconventional and get back to you. Sorry!

Do SWAT teams in metropolitan areas use Spotters in addition to snipers/shooters or is that only in the military?

Asked by dan79 over 5 years ago

Yes, we do. SWAT sniper/observer teams deploy together in most cases, just like in the military, and for the same reasons. In police situations, a sniper team may be responsible for covering a particular door or window during a hostage rescue, and having two sets of eyes with different optics watching things is always better than one set. Relaying intelligence to the command post and to the entry team is a huge part of the sniper/observer duties, as well as providing force protection and overwatch to the entry team. At the relatively close ranges encountered by SWAT snipers, the observer is usually using binoculars with a wider field of view than the sniper can see through the rifle scope, and can direct the sniper to a particular window or doorway if the suspect is spotted. 

SWAT activations can last many hours; after a while, the sniper must be relieved in order to rest his eyes and muscles. While "on the scope" a sniper's job requires intense, 100% concentration in case a life-saving hostage rescue shot must be taken. Snipers are observers and observers are snipers, equally qualified in both jobs. A team of two can be self-relieving to extend deployment time for up to 12 hours if need be. 

The training and equipment used by police and military sniper/observers is very similar (sometimes identical.) Of course, police snipers can't call in an airstrike  :-)



OK! How do you ensure that the hostage taker doesn't kill the hostage when a SWAT sniper tries to take him out? :)
(Is there always a coordinated storming of the location immediately after a shot? That's what I assumed...)

Asked by BarryD over 5 years ago

Thanks Barry! :-)

Here is one of the areas where the training and mission is a bit different between military and police snipers. Military snipers generally fire at much longer ranges than SWAT snipers. Their goal is to kill enemy soldiers or combatants, and a chest hit at many hundreds of yards will do the trick. If they don't die immediately, no big deal.

When a SWAT sniper takes a shot at a hostage-taker (which is a very rare occurrance) the absolute requirement is to save the life of the hostage. If the suspect is holding a gun to the head of the hostage or holding a knife to their throat, a shot to the chest or leg or anywhere else will cause the suspect to flinch, pulling the trigger or jerking the knife. Dead hostage. Not good.

Therefore, SWAT snipers train for the only shot that will ensure that the suspect will NOT reflexively shoot the hostage, and that is a brain shot. It sounds gruesome, but this is the only thing that instantly incapacitates the central nervous system, causing all muscles to relax rather than contract. The trigger finger goes limp, the hostage is saved.

So, SWAT snipers have a much smaller aiming point (and are much closer) than military snipers, generally speaking.

And it is a common tactic for entry teams to "MOVE" on a sniper-initiated assault.