'Own' the Night

Criminal suspects operate 24 hours a day, but the majority of crime is committed during the hours where the sun has gone down. In addition, according to the FBI, "historically most line-of-duty deaths and serious injuries take place during the hours of darkness." Proper preparations for conducting police operations in low light require training and the right equipment. Fortunately, both have improved drastically over the last few years.

Your Eyes and Low Light

I met Marshall Schmitt, now retired from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, years ago at a seminar. Marshall, currently working for Lasermax®, is a law enforcement and military training leader in how the eyes work in low or subdued lighting and low light firearms training. Marshall points out that eye efficiency is seriously affected by entering an adverse lighting environment. For instance, if you have 20/20 vision and you enter a darkened movie theatre, your vision can deteriorate to around 20/800, or about five percent of your visual capabilities. Considering that 20/200 in considered legally blind, you are over four times worse off in a low light environment. Your eyes will gradually adjust to the darkness, but it takes time. In 15 minutes you will improve to 20/300, but it will take 32 minutes before you reach your highest visual potential in low light at 20/180. Practically speaking, no one has the time to stand around and wait for their eyes to adjust. Despite that, if you're searching a darkened area, you need to be able to see more than what is needed to stumble around in the dark.

The Role of the Flashlight

  • Navigate: The flashlight is used to find your way. Imagine a darkened factory you're searching on an alarm drop. With all the hazards, including areas where you could fall or trip let alone find a hidden suspect inside, how can you possibly move safely without a light?
  • Locate: In order to apprehend a suspect, you must be able to locate them. Whether it is in a complete adverse lighting situation or a "dark hole" (as low light instructor and former Navy SEAL Ken Good calls them) like a closet or darkened room, you have to be able to find hidden suspects. This mandates a lighting instrument.
  • Identify: Not long ago, an off-duty sheriff's deputy tragically shot his daughter who was coming home late at night after sneaking out with friends. Simply put, you cannot shoot an unidentified darkened figure whether on duty or off. You must properly identify that person as a threat. Tragically, the first female FBI agent killed in the line of duty was shot by other agents during a stakeout operation as she was running down an alleyway with her pistol in her hand. Not recognizing her as a fellow agent, other agents opened fired when she failed to drop her pistol as ordered.
  • Engage the Threat: Regardless of whether it's with less-lethal devices such as the TASER® or with gunfire, lighting instruments aid you in getting your force application on target. In order to stop them, you've got to be accurate.


Lighting instruments (and they are indeed instruments, far more than mere "flashlights") have improved in the lumens (proper measurement of light versus candela or candlepower) they produce and decreased in size. When the British Special Air Service conducted their Princess Gate hostage rescue operation years ago, they duct-taped Maglites® to the tops of their submachine guns. Now we have lights that add no appreciable weight to a pistol and with the advent of duty holsters designed to accommodate them, can be carried by a uniformed officer throughout their shift.

Do I recommend weapon mounted lights? Yes, I believe that the combination of equipment and proper training can drastically improve performance. One of the hardest things for a shooter to do is to coordinate the manipulation of the pistol and handheld light. I've seen all manners of grips and holds with lights and pistols, and none equal the performance of a weapon mounted light. That said, you must have and be able to work with both. You cannot point a light mounted on a pistol or long-gun as you would a flashlight alone, so you must have access to a handheld as well.

Handheld and weapon mounted lights from Surefire®, BlackHawk®, Insight®, Streamlight® and others are all quality lighting instruments designed/intended for hard street use and are worthy of your consideration. All make standard incandescent lamp lights as well as LED (Light Emitting Diode) lamps. LEDs have the advantage that they last for thousands of hours and will gradually fade versus an incandescent which can blow with little to no warning. Additionally, there are advantages and disadvantages to both rechargeable and lithium batteries. Rechargeable lights are more economical, but with the low cost of three volt lithium batteries nowadays, they should be considered for duty as well, since they offer high lumen output in a small package. Consider the Navy SEAL saying, "One equals none and two equals one," when equipping yourself. Your primary light could be a rechargeable and your backup (and you should carry one) can be a lithium battery light carried unobtrusively on your duty belt. Lights should be carried by all officers on all calls at all times, regardless of the shift (darkened basements and attics abound and most dope houses I've been in usually have one light bulb in the whole house...in the kitchen).

Whatever light you carry, remember that you do not want to leave the light on, but rather you should "paint the area" with light, as Ken Good says. Use two to three seconds of light, then turn the light off and move. Once a suspect is located, you can leave the light on as you challenge (hopefully from behind cover).

Lasers such as those by Lasermax and Crimson Trace® can increase hit potential in low or subdued lighting as well. Both make quality products that can be carried affixed to your duty pistol while on duty. No longer a novelty, these laser devices have proven themselves in actual street combat.


The vital link in success in adverse lighting is training. Sadly, this is the area where most LE agencies fail. While most agencies in my state conduct little additional firearms work each year outside of the state qualification, the state course of fire does include a low light event. Unfortunately, agencies are allowed to conduct this event in daylight while wearing welding goggles. Whatever value this event held is gone with this allowance. That said, one event does not a prepared officer make. We need to train our officers to be effective in these low light conditions. If an agency does not have access to an indoor range or cannot use their outdoor range at night, why not conduct training using Airsoft weapons? I've conducted excellent force on force training programs using Airsoft, as well as with paintball guns. These low cost training modalities can be used just about anywhere. Why not set up a judgmental course of fire with cardboard good guy/bad guy targets at night, in a parking lot or in the city equipment garage after hours? These training opportunities are vital for officers to learn to properly use their lights to locate and identify targets, as well as practicing their shooting techniques. Force on force is the ultimate in low light training, showing the importance of proper use of light and cover.

Own the Night

Nothing comes easy in skill development. You must advance your knowledge base of low light encounter training, as well as practice your tactics and techniques. Muhammad Ali said, "The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses--behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights." Before the fight, prepare, equip and train and you'll own the night!