You're a SWAT sniper just rolling onto the scene of a robbery in progress. You were awakened 45 minutes ago, which means you've only had four hours of sleep in the last 24 hours. In your "regular" duties, you were on patrol all night on your regular shift. As a dual-slotted member of Team Two, one of three sniper teams, you are getting this call because your team is the only one available. Mike and Jim on Team One are out of town at a SWAT conference; Team Three is out of the question -- Pete went under the knife for a triple bypass yesterday and Joey is on his honeymoon in Cancun with his new bride. Tony, your spotter and the other half of Team Two hasn't been found yet and there's no telling if he'll ever get the word in time to get here before things are all over. You park your car, retrieve your personally-owned PSG-1 from the trunk (leaving it cased for now), and walk into the local Maid-Rite restaurant which, for the moment, is being used as the command post for this operation. Everyone on duty knows you work the night shift and haven't had much sleep -- someone hands you a cup of coffee and points you to a room in the back. Taking a chair, you sit down and receive this briefing.
At 1310 hours, our dispatch center received a tip that the Consolidated Credit Union was going to be robbed by a Daniel Maloney. At the same time, an alarm was received from the credit union. Initial responding officers established a perimeter and secured the area. Shortly after their arrival, suspect brought out a hostage and shot him repeatedly with a handgun. The patrol officers removed the injured hostage. Negotiators have established contact with the suspect who has identified himself as a member of Soldiers for a United Freedom. Negotiators advise that he is extremely brash and bragging about "a hail of gunfire." Negotiations are ongoing. There is only one entrance to the building.
Cover the entrance of the credit union. Use that force necessary to protect yourself or others.
Welcome to Precision Decisions! This is just ONE of the many scenarios presented as part of a revolutionary videotape sniper training program that is quickly gaining acceptance in law enforcement agencies all across the country. Far ahead of other "video simulations" that incorporate the use of lasers to engage "targets," Precision Decisions is as real as it gets, short of actually taking life. With this program, you use the same weapons you use on duty, and you actually fire them, with the same live ammunition you always carry. You feel recoil. You have to cycle the bolt on your bolt-action rifle for follow-up shots. You, or your spotter, have to read the distance to the target, as well as the prevailing wind conditions, and determine a ballistic solution. In fact, all weather conditions must be taken into account -- heat, cold, rain, snow, hail, humidity... all of them.
The versatility and utility of Precision Decisions is only limited by one's imagination. Not only is it of benefit to snipers, but it is also a valuable training tool for the command structure and entry teams as well. Using this training program, a multitude of weapon systems can be trained on, such as handguns, MP5 submachine guns, CAR-15 carbines, and so on. In fact, owing to the many different situations presented, police officers who often work undercover doing drug buys or who work as hostage negotiators can also find merit with this videotape series.
Precision Decisions is the creation of Keith Deneys (pronounced as if saying the words "deny us"), a deputy with the Brown County Sheriffs Department out of Green Bay, Wisconsin. In his early days as an officer filling a sniper position, Keith realized there were a number of shortcomings with the way traditional sniper training programs were being conducted. As Keith told me, "I examined the way I had been doing my monthly training and realized that I was not training at all. I was simply gathering dope and verifying the accuracy of my weapon. I realized that I needed more knowledge. I sought out training and realized how limited the resources are for snipers." Now, keep in mind that this was years ago, long before all the "ultimate" books and tapes gained such popularity, before such books by Mike Lau and others came into being, before the majority of the various training schools around the country ever existed. So as Keith saw the matter, he was right -- and if he was going to get the training he felt he and his brother officers needed, something was going to have to change.
Keith sought and received as much training as he could, and has an extensive background of schooling. However, he is most proud of the time he trained under "the man" himself. "By far the most influential training I received was the time I spent in Virginia Beach under the supervision of USMC (ret.) Gunny Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock II's annual Counter Sniper school. The time that I spent under Gunny Hathcock's guidance shaped the methodology that I utilize to this day. This quest for knowledge eventually lead to my certification as an Advanced Instructor -- it also lead to the State of Wisconsin certifying me as one of only two Sniper Instructor Trainers. Needless to say we weren't just putting rounds down range anymore, we were building skills at our monthly training sessions."
However, Keith saw a serious problem with the types of presentations being offered on the range. The targets being used just weren't lifelike at all, and their movement was always too predictable. Let's be honest, bad guys don't present themselves as "pop-ups," "swingers," "sliders," nor as any other type of target often encountered on a rifle or handgun range. For law enforcement snipers to train properly, Keith felt, they needed more realism. To accomplish this, he initially tried a couple of different methods.
"The first is to put a target down range and then deploy your students onto the firing line in a simulated situation. They run through a scenario imagining that the target down range is real. Then at some point, either by having the target turn and face them or through a simulated radio transmission they would engage." Keith noted that the problem with this method was that it was too mechanical, too "black and white" to properly represent real-life situations. "The problem here is realism -- the targets are two-dimensional. They are either a threat or not a threat. In real life the use of force is a fluid, changing situation. The justification [for shooting] can be a subtle change in body position. Therefore, this method was just not realistic." Not being happy with the way things were working, he tried introducing a human element. "The second method of simulation is through the use of actors. The snipers deploy to the scenario, sometimes even with blank rounds. They watch the actors and, at the appropriate time, drop the hammer. While the target in this situation is real enough, the problem lies in the fact that there is no test of accuracy." And again, it became obvious there there were other problems with this type of training. "No matter how true to his conviction the sniper is, in the back of his head he always knows that no one else will ever know if the crosshairs were where they should have been."
In the past, Keith had been involved with using "use of force" videotapes for officers working in counter-drug programs, and it occurred to him that perhaps the same method might have some application for training law enforcement snipers. However, before he could even consider putting together a videotape sniper training program, there would be liability issues, varying from department to department, that would need to be addressed. Early in process of drafting the training plan for his videotape series, he contacted the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) for their position on sniping. "I knew that in the civil litigation that follows a shooting, this association would be looked to for a national standard for training. During some conversations with Larry Glick, the executive director of the association, I was invited to assist in the development of their position paper. Together with Bud Graves, Stuart Meyers, and several others we developed that standard, the NTOA's 'Recommendations for SWAT Snipers.'"
With a position paper now in place with the NTOA, Keith felt more comfortable producing his videotape series, and the resulting program has been getting excellent attention. As Keith told me, "Stuart Meyers, author of 'A Guide to Police Sniping'... was so taken by the program that he highlighted the series as 'Innovative Training' at the National SWAT Sniper Symposium." Because he is a member of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers (ASLET), Keith also submitted it to them for their review. Not only did they give it their recommendation, they also called it "a real bargain". Since examining Precision Decisions, I've further discovered that this series was reviewed by Bob Kain of LAPD SWAT who was also impressed with it. And comments by Snipercraft stated that the video segments are the perfect teaching tool for marksmanship, decision making, and observation.
To get some input that would help me write a fair and accurate review of the series, I invited duty-slotted snipers from seven law enforcement agencies in my area. From Iowa, I invited officers from the Bettendorf and Davenport police departments, as well as the sheriffs department from Scott County. From Illinois, I invited officers from Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline police departments as well as from the sheriffs department for Rock Island County. Per my request, I asked that not only SWAT snipers attend the viewing of the videotapes, but that training coordinators attend as well. I wanted to get feedback not only from SWAT snipers but from those responsible for the training programs in their departments. So, on a rainy Saturday in October, 1998, I met with the officers who attended, as well as Keith and Connie Deneys. I had Keith on hand to explain his program to the officers and to answer any questions they might have. Before the officers arrived, Keith and his wife Connie set up the projector and made things ready while I arranged the room and laid out materials. As the officers showed up, we all made introductions and chatted a bit before getting down to business. In the course of the various conversations, I learned that in one big respect, these guys are a lot like you and me -- that is, they take their shooting seriously. They like good equipment, good optics, and good ammo. They also like getting "quality" range time. And, for cops -- just like for us in our own jobs -- training opportunities are often granted or denied based on budget considerations.
I was very honored to have these officers present, because it was obvious that some arrangements in training and work schedules had been made so the gentlemen could be in attendance. I'd sent out the letters of invitation almost a month prior, hoping to make it possible for as many officers to attend as could be scheduled within the limits of each department's work and training rotations. The downpour of rain continued virtually all day (one of the worst rains we've had so far this year), but in the spirit of "if it ain't rainin', it ain't trainin,'" it turned out to be a fine day for sharing a little camaraderie, talking about shooting, and watching a couple of videotapes.
I introduced myself and then turned it over to Keith, who explained his background and how he came to develop the series.
As Keith stated, it's best to view this series, for training purposes (i.e., not just "viewing" it), to use a video projector. Modern projectors can be expensive, but it's quite common, as he pointed out, for police departments to gain the use of them from local universities or similar institutions. Of course, the training is usually done outside and weather conditions can occasionally be nasty but, with a little ingenuity and care, a projector can be safely protected from the elements. Power supplies used are usually portable generators, although some ranges have power sources available onsite. As for a surface upon which to project the image, Keith showed us what he uses and recommends: Reynold's Freezer Wrap. It's strong, cheap, and resists the wind quite well. If it's particularly breezy, Keith said doubling up on the freezer wrap usually does the trick.
You can either build a framework of sorts, on which to apply the freezer wrap, or you can use a typical backing such as whatever you would normally use for target shooting.
When he had sufficiently explained his training program and its reason for being, we started watching the tapes. Keith gave us a little "set up" to explain the nature of each one, and then we watched. Each officer had his own handout, which consisted of the manual that accompanies the tapes, and a few looseleaf inserts. As we watched the tapes, officers were free to ask questions, during which time I paused the tape until all questions or comments had been addressed; when we were all ready again, I started the tape again.
Initially, there are some "training" exercises, and they are very challenging. What I really like about this training program is that you can actually shoot, feel the recoil, cycle the bolt on your rifle, take follow-up shots as needed, and all the while you're under the constraints of time (target presentation) and wind (you would be outdoors for training purposes). The training segments consist of actors walking, carrying guns, holding hostages, and generally making it darn difficult to get off a clean shot that would end things favorably.
Imagine, for a minute, an indoor pistol range. You know those target silhouettes that hang on wires, that you can send away from you or bring toward you, blazing away ala Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon? Well, except for a little "slop" in the wires, there's not much that is challenging about the way the target is presenting itself. In real life, however, which is to say on the Precision Decisions videotape, the bad guy might be walking toward you, or away from you -- but his head is bobbing up and down, and he's swaying slightly from left to right as he walks, just like what happens with everyone.
Hey, want to see a tough shot to make? Try the segments that have the armed actor jogging toward you, or away from you, at an oblique angle! You have only SECONDS to shoot, and trying to make a headshot in these segments is practically impossible.
Oh... then there's the one with him controlling a hostage as he crosses the screen. You don't get any body presentation, and only brief exposures of the head. It's tough shooting, folks, it's tough shooting.
Each scenario presented is as real as it can possibly get. As the shooter, it's not just a matter of taking a shot, it's also a matter of making the right decision whether to shoot or not -- and when.
There's a lot more to this program, especially when you progress into the real-life scenarios, such as I presented at the beginning of my review. There are MANY like that one, and each one is real. As real as you let yourself believe. And this isn't like some kind of arcade shooting gallery situation, either -- you don't get target presentations just five seconds into the scenario -- which is to say that there is a LOT of long, silent, tension-filled waiting! If you think Precision Decisions is going to present you with target-rich environments every few seconds, you'll be sadly disappointed. Those of us watching the tape all commented, after each one, how much "focus" is required to stay tuned into the situation. Just like SWAT snipers encounter on an operation. Lots of watching, lot's of "nothing happening," lots of potential for daydreaming (or dozing off), lots of opportunities for distractions and missed opportunities for shots. There is occasionally some radio traffic involved, and you can be as elaborate as you want in this respect. Again, the value of Precision Decisions is only limited by one's imagination.
Some of the challenges offered in this program include night operations, which include artificial light, considerations for placing shots due to glass barriers, and always the unexpected. And, just to make things really interesting, the intel reports you get over the radio during these scenarios are just as accurate as the ones you get in real life... if you know what I mean.
Due to the genuinely real stress involved in watching these exercises, one right after another, breaks were greatly welcomed. Why? Because treating each one of these scenarios as real, viewing them back to back was physically and mentally draining. It was like being on a marathon "call out" from one situation to another -- and the demands of doing something like this, viewing two years of training in one afternoon, really are indescribable.
However, after the last scene from the last of the two-tape set had been shown, the lights were brought up and Keith handled questions from the officers. Then everyone took a short break, after which I asked Keith and Connie to wait outside the room for a while, so I could meet with the officers. I handed out paper and pens to each officer and explained that, while the material from the tapes was fresh in their minds, I wanted them to jot down their thoughts on what they had seen. I asked them to be honest and candid, which is why I asked Keith and Connie to step out of the room. I requested that they bear in mind that this series was intended to be used as a tool for law enforcement snipers around the country and that they tailor their comments within the framework of that purpose. Basically, I told them I wanted to know if they thought this was something other law enforcement snipers should incorporate into their training programs. At this point, I left the officers alone to themselves and their thoughts while I exited the room and spent some time getting to know Keith and Connie Deneys, who I must point out are very kind and considerate people. They had driven down from the Green Bay area of Wisconsin and had encountered rain during their entire journey of six hours. To top it off, they weren't even staying in the area for the night but were going to start for home that same evening. However, at least to get some rest, they would stop along the way and stay the night with Keith's brother.
In the interest of being fair and impartial, I explained to the officers, with Keith present, that I would ask Keith to step outside while I met privately with the officers. I further explained that I wanted any negative comments they might have about the tapes. I also stated that I would not repeat anything they said to Keith -- in fact, this review for Sniper Country is the first opportunity that both the viewing officers and Keith Deneys will have to see any portion of my review. My only reason to have Keith on hand was to answer any questions the officers might have wanted to ask about the program.
With this out of the way, let me share some of the officers' comments.
After taking the officers' written comments, I sat down with them to just generally chat with them, thank them for coming, and to hear what they thought about Precision Decisions. Virtually all impressions were positive and, as I learned later when reading through their written comments, in complete agreement with what the others had to say.
There were a few comments that, while they are not "negative" about the program, still bear worth mentioning.
More than one officer mentioned concerns about scoring. That is, how would performance be determined? Should a points system be developed? Should a scale of some sort be used, as in a decision matrix, that evaluates the choices made by officers participating in each exercise? (With regard to earlier comments about shooting scores, this concern was addressed -- sufficiently, I feel -- by Keith explaining that a white light can be placed behind the freezer wrap during the playing of the tape. Then, an observing spotter could call the strike, or a video camera could be set up, off to the side, taping the impact of the shots on the freezer wrap "projection screen." With the idea of the camcorder, which would be my choice, you can replay the scenario -- and shots fired -- anytime and as often as you want, while building an historical database of sorts, akin to a training records archive. A particularly nice benefit of using the camcorder to document shots is that it eliminates any doubt and questionable "calls" on the part of an observer.
While the cost of the program is not staggering by any means, it may still be somewhat prohibitive for small departments having only a couple of snipers -- if any at all. In such instances, it may be hard for budget officers to justify the expenditure for this program.
A comment from one of the county deputies was that most (though not all) of the situations seemed more applicable to police officers in a city environment.
For the portion of the tapes that dealt primarily with "shoot/no shoot" situations, one officer suggested it might have been better to include a few more "no shoot" scenarios.
I should point out that one of the officers made this comment: "I was surprised that they're that cheap -- I thought they'd cost more!" However, to make the series even more affordable, Keith is now offering it for sale by sections, which should make it possible for departments to get started on the training sooner without having to wait (and save more money) until the entire series can be purchased. From the following options, your department can determine which package would best suit its needs.
Please note that all sales are restricted to members of law enforcement, the military, or educational institutions. Keith will be producing subsequent videotape training programs in the future.