You Strobe, I Strobe, We All Strobe Together

Strobes give officers a tactical advantage over suspects


Strobing forces the brain's perception input to arrive in segments, albeit regular intervals. Officers can increase the perceptual disparity (and officer safety) by moving while strobing. The afterimages strobing produces further increases perceptual disparity effects.

Certain types of drugs may also amplify the effects of strobing, compounding the effect, though "Law Enforcement Technology" researchers could not find any data supporting this theory. Most officers know certain drugs, especially stimulants, dilate the pupils of the eye, which is evident even in bright sunlight. These dilated pupils also may be less likely (depending on the drug of choice) to rebound quickly enough in response to a bright light.

The Bucha Effect
Another effect of strobing can be The Bucha Effect, which is a phenomenon that occurs when a person experiences dizziness and confusion when exposed to strobe lighting. It is named after Dr. Bucha who identified the effect when asked to investigate a series of unexplained helicopter crashes in the 1950s. After the crash, surviving crew members said they experienced dizziness and disorientation from the strobing affect of rotating helicopter blades.

The Bucha Effect is similar to photosensitive epilepsy, a form of seizures triggered by visual stimuli that occurs in patterns. However, it is not limited to persons with epilepsy. About 3 percent of the general population is susceptible to patterned lights, flashing computer screens and other visual stimuli, such as sunlight through a row of trees viewed from a moving car. The Bucha Effect is not a seizure but has similar symptoms. Like photosensitive epilepsy, its effects are mitigated by distance, relationship of source to the periphery of vision and brightness.

The Bucha Effect may partially explain what happens when a person is strobed. Residual or persistence of vision may be the other part of the equation. Whatever the mental effects, strobing works.

Any limitations to the officer?
However, if strobing affects the subjects, couldn't it affect the officer using the strobes as well?

Because strobing produces a reduced ability for distance estimation, it brings up a training challenge. Is the shooting ability of the strobing officer degraded because of altered perception? Is there a delay or loss of accuracy for the officer who lights his target with the strobing light, then shoots?

"Law Enforcement Technology" researchers recently investigated strobing from the officer's perspective. Our researchers wanted to know if a strobe affects the officer's ability to align sights, maintain a sight select picture and keep a steady shooting platform.

To answer these questions, researchers set up an experiment to determine if the officer's ability to shoot while strobing is affected in comparison to using a steady beam to light a target.

For this experiment, researchers used replicas of duty guns, testing shooting while strobing in ambient light. Replica guns were used so muzzle flash would not be a factor in the test. They shot the first set of targets in visible ambient light, then shot the same targets while employing flashlights with steady beams. Finally, researchers shot the same set of targets using the same shooters and strobing flashlights.

After researchers tallied up the times it took to accurately take in the three different modes, they found the average times of all three events showed little variance. The research suggests that shooting using a strobe is not much different than shooting while employing other lighting sources, provided the officer is the giver, not the recipient.

Chiodo helped researchers put their efforts into perspective. He suggested that trying to demonstrate precision shooting using a strobe may result in answers, but questioned whether researchers were asking the right questions. He noted using shooting methods that rely on fine motor skills rather than fighting methods, which must be effective when the sympathetic nervous system is activated, are a better test of a combat effective product or method.

"When we put two people armed with identical Airsoft products into dark rooms, the person with a strobing light will generally prevail," says Chiodo, who pioneered the use of Airsoft equipment in firearms training programs and instructs many law enforcement professionals in low-light tactics

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