Decades of duty after dark

Today's night vision capabilities give law enforcement confidence in otherwise vulnerable situations

   "I remember one case where we were looking for two guys who had just murdered a cab driver," Reifinger details. "When we got out there, one of them had committed suicide and the other one ran off. Before it got light in the morning, at least I could search the tree lines with the scope of my rifle to see if there was any movement. It was pitch black dark and there was not much anyone could see."

   With the use of information seen via night vision, Reifinger's team was able to secure a perimeter and the suspect in hiding was chased out of a field and into the cuffs of a police team awaiting him on the other side.

Keep the after-dark advantage

   Night vision's covert supervision is protective because, of course, turning on a light to search for suspects in darkness would give away location and make the team a target.

   Reifinger says police need to remember when using night vision, especially those enhanced by an infrared capability, that a signal is put out to anyone else who may be using a night vision device; and he reminds that various night vision-capable units are available to the civilian world (including older generations). To avoid detection or fire from an armed suspect, he suggests moving the enhancing infrared source away from the officer positions so if a suspect aims fire at the infrared signal, no officers will be hit.

   "That's something that you have to be careful of not only in the military, but now in law enforcement," he says. "Because some of the threats in domestic law enforcement have weapon systems that may be just as good as those in law enforcement."

Driving in the dark

   From Nivisys, the most affordable model (and Lowe says is the company's most popular), is its Multi-Use Monocular, or the MUM-14.

   The Multi-use MUM-14 Mini-Monocular is a passive handheld night vision device that utilizes a single Generation 3 intensifier tube to provide clear images in dark conditions. According to the company, the MUM-14's single eyepiece approach is based on the concept that independent use of each eye maximizes the ability of the user to operate under a wide range of low-light conditions and maintain maximum situational awareness.

   Reifinger seconds that view, especially in tactical night driving, which he recently taught using night vision in Texas.

   "You can work both eyes at the same time, and you can drive looking at your monocular out the window, but you might have stuff inside the car that you want to see, too," such as the dash and controls, Reifinger explains. He also says using a monocular in this application can impair depth perception, but offers this tip: Using a monocular device while driving "will affect your depth perception, especially at high speeds. There are a few tricks [to avoid loss of depth perception], such as keeping a sideways back-and-forth head motion," he says.

Looking for funds

   In the mid-'90s, Reifinger explains that night vision units were expensive for a local police department. Most departments have a tough time spending that kind of money on equipment, and today's stretched budgets further exacerbate tight spending. The savior, says Reifinger, has always been the seizure money that's available for law enforcement through large drug cases. "That's really where most departments can afford to buy night vision," he says.

   Lowe says he is often questioned by his customers about funding, and advises agencies interested in acquiring night vision to look into federal or state homeland security funding sources, which have allowed teams flexibility in the past to get this type of equipment deployed.

   "Proceeds from drug sales or from any type of criminal activity, all of those are good sources of funding for this type of equipment," he adds.

Confident sniping

   With experience in both law enforcement and military use of night vision, Lowe and Reifinger can both testify to how much night vision benefits a team and department.

   With his six years military experience, Lowe has an additional angle of understanding the difference between the demands made of an NV device by a law enforcer versus military use.

   "Law enforcement in general has a far more rigid set of rules of engagement before a lethal force decision is made, as compared to most military units." Because night vision is clearer and can view farther today, snipers can more confidently ID a suspect prior to firing.

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