From Starlight to Street Light

Since 9/11 virtually all members of the law enforcement community have become soldiers in the war on terrorism. Even the more traditionally "peaceful" jobs, such as rural border control, park rangers and Bureau of Land Management scouts, are feeling the...


Image intensifier-based night vision devices are available in both monocular and binocular designs. As the type of deployment determines the appropriate type of night vision technology, so does it determine the preference or necessity for monocular or binocular designs.

"Many of our officers prefer the monocular system to maintain clear use of weapons if the need arises," says Special Agent in Charge John Silence of the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado State Office.

Frazier agrees, noting, "The monocular device allows for the flexibility of the natural eye to take over when you no longer need night vision. We put the night vision monocular over an individual's weaker eye. When natural vision needs to take over — to return fire, for instance — SWAT team members then have their stronger eye to use."

Taking in two very different types of visual stimuli is not something that occurs under typical circumstances. Therefore, training is required. "During training, we find that our brains adjust to having a monocular on one eye and natural vision on the other," continues Frazier. "With proper training, it's amazing how quickly the human brain adjusts to having our eyes 'uncoupled' from each other so that one sees night vision and then shuts off to allow the other natural vision eye to take over."

Because there is less potential for firearm use and the type of patrol, the Boston Police Harbor Unit prefers the binocular design. "We find that two connected night vision monoculars make an ideal binocular," says Terenzi. "Two monoculars hooked together provide the depth perception required while navigating — especially at high speeds. We are rarely involved in exchanging gun fire, so we don't require the quick switching between the night vision eye to the natural eye, something that is very important to a sniper or a SWAT team member. Additionally, the magnification we require for most of our work makes the binocular set up very natural."

Pavsner, now with GSA supplier Maxavision Technologies, noticed a trend that "agents, whose jobs in the past have been primarily surveillance, now have to think in terms of potentially engaging terrorists. As a result, in many cases, they are upgrading their equipment. In the past, many of these strictly surveillance agents preferred binoculars. Now we are recommending monoculars in case they need to return fire," he says.

What's coming and what's needed

The U.S. government tightly controls proliferation of night vision technologies outside of the United States. However, according to Rivkin and Pavsner, there is little inside the U.S. borders to keep sophisticated devices, such as Gen 3 night vision, out of the hands of "bad guys" and only in the hands of "good guys."

"It is not unreasonable to predict that in the foreseeable future criminals in the United States will start using technologies that 10 years ago were strictly in the hands of military professionals," says Rivkin. "This change will have to be accounted for through adequate training and countermeasures that may be deployed by law enforcement against technologically advanced criminals and terrorists."

Patton agrees, saying, "Unfortunately, the concept of owning the night is known to smugglers as well as law enforcement. We seize a number of earlier generation night vision goggles each year from suspects involved in smuggling. It is the more effective utilization of both thermal imaging and night vision assets that continues to give advantage to border law enforcement for now."

Development of night vision technologies never stops. Law enforcement professionals soon will be able to evaluate benefits of so-called fusion systems. These systems combine functionality and user benefits of image intensification devices and thermal imagers. "But as with all new technology, cost will be a factor when being deployed in the law enforcement sector," reminds Pavsner.

There are some current funding opportunities for night vision equipment. For example, the GSA 1122 Counterdrug Program is one such opportunity. This program allows state and local governments to purchase law enforcement equipment, including night vision devices and cameras, through federal procurement channels, provided the equipment is used in the performance of counterdrug activities. Other federal and state funding opportunities and grants are becoming available quite regularly and provide an excellent way for qualified users to obtain night vision equipment.

  • Enhance your experience.

    Thank you for your regular readership of and visits to Officer.com. To continue viewing content on this site, please take a few moments to fill out the form below and register on this website.

    Registration is required to help ensure your access to featured content, and to maintain control of access to content that may be sensitive in nature to law enforcement.