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.