Being a sniper in the Baton Rouge Police Department is not glamorous.
The job duties often include hours of sitting, waiting and watching. In fact, the sharpshooters serve mostly as highly trained lookouts.
But on a handful of occasions every year, the six men who make up the department’s sniper team respond to some of the most dangerous situations faced by police officers. The circumstances often involve people barricaded in buildings. Sometimes hostages are trapped.
During such scenarios that are rarely, if ever, experienced here but have been seen elsewhere, particularly “active shooter” incidents in schools or other public arenas, the snipers serve as experienced responders prepared to step up if and when they’re needed.
“They’re some of the best in the country,” said Capt. Noel Salamoni, commander of the department’s Special Operations Unit, which includes the sniper team.
Snipers are not unheard of at other law enforcement agencies across the state. Most large police departments and sheriff’s offices have SWAT teams, which often include at least a sniper or two, and sometimes more, law enforcement officials said.
In Baton Rouge, the sniper team functions as an arm of the SWAT unit, or Special Response Team. Every sniper is an SRT member with regular SRT duties, although surprisingly, no current sniper team member has military experience, said Sgt. Jeff Williams, the team’s leader and one of its six members.
Neither Williams nor Salamoni could recall a situation where a sniper had to fire his weapon outside of a training exercise in at least two decades.
But that just means the rest of the SWAT team was doing its job, they said.
“Everything is designed not to shoot,” said Peter L. Scharf, a use of force expert and a professor at the LSU Health Sciences Center’s Institute for Public Health and Justice.
Scharf said snipers are common among SWAT teams, even though they usually don’t shoot.
“Sit, wait and talk,” he quipped, referring to an alternate interpretation of the SWAT acronym, which officially stands for special weapons and tactics.
Snipers don’t necessarily talk too much while on the job. But sitting and waiting?
“It takes a lot of patience sometimes,” Williams said.
The team trains as a group on a monthly basis, most often at the department’s shooting range in Zachary. Featuring a 300-yard shooting lane, the range offers exceptionally challenging training grounds for shooters who likely would never be forced to shoot a target from that distance in an urban setting.
“You always have to have the capability,” Williams said.
He recalled a few instances where snipers responded and proved particularly useful in the past few years.
One involved an incident where a man fired an assault rifle sporadically in a neighborhood before barricading himself into a home. Snipers kept an eye on him while negotiators tried to coax him outside. The man eventually walked out unarmed.
“But had he come out violently, it would have ended very quickly,” Williams said.
Salamoni said the snipers are deployed “for the really bad things that don’t normally happen but can happen and have happened.”
“You have to train for what you do daily,” he said. “But you also have to train for what could happen.”
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter @_BenWallace.