"You are learning to kill another human being," says an instructor at a sniper school.
If the 1980s saw an explosion in the number of police SWAT teams, the 1990s have witnessed similar rapid growth in the police sniper. There are now eight schools dedicated to training police snipers in America, CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports. Two more schools are soon to follow.
Most of these officers are very, very good at their jobs. Their motto: One shot, one kill.
With crime down in general and the number of deadly shootings by police officers down in particular, you might question why more and more police departments are going through the trouble and expense of finding a professional sniper.
Derrick Bartlett, a Ft. Lauderdale policeman who runs a school outside Sebring, Fla., believes the answer is simple: It's because they can afford it. Better-financed police departments, he says, want to be better prepared for every eventuality. "A man who snaps out some evening and takes his wife and kids hostage is not the normal run-of-the-mill police call," he says. "So you need people who are trained and equipped to handle that out of the ordinary call."
And once you have such people, Bartlett believes, many police chiefs simply can't resist the impulse to use them, even when it may not be necessary. "They do seem to be being used more," he says. "It's a tool. The police agencies are using them more and more, almost to the point of abusing them."
No one keeps track of how often police snipers take a deadly shot, but when it happens, it seems to make the news. While most such situations end as they should with the innocent hostages freed, when the wrong person is shot-or sometimes even a fellow cop-the whole world seems to be watching.
So at weeklong sniper schools, the training is physical. Emphasis is put on stalking as much as shooting. "You are shooting at basically a four-inch circle, which is the cranial vault itself," Bartlett emphasizes to his students. Snipers call that circle the "apricot," so named for the size of the nerve bundle they're aiming at. One bullet hit to that part of the brain kills a person instantly.
Chances are that these officers will never have to shoot somebody. Most will deploy dozens of times in their careers, but only a handful will face the ultimate decision.