Can You See The Light?

After action shooting data indicates that as much as half of all police shootings involve low light situations. That statistic is profound and also critical so that we understand that unless we train our officers under similar low light conditions, we are setting them up for problems. The majority of our training occurs in bright sunlight and well-lit ranges. Indeed, I see many of my colleagues wearing sunglasses on the range because it is so bright. So, what happens when an officer has to use his or her weapon in a dark or low light situation? The answer is: he or she is going to react in a manner that could possibly have grave consequences, since we have not trained that individual to work in a similar environment.

The SureFire Institute conducts low light training courses and has an excellent presentation for classroom work. Some of the things that are "brought to light" in this course concern the human eye and its role in our ability to operate in low light conditions. When you consider that 80% of all sensory information is taken in through our eyes, you realize that it is important to understand that using a light in everyday police operations is as important as the weapon itself. If you cannot locate the threat you cannot win.

In the study "California Peace Officers Killed in the Line of Duty," we find some very cogent items to address in our training:

  • Most officer involved shootings occur with the first 2 minutes of the officer arriving on the scene (no time for adaptation to low light)
  • 70% occurred during hours of darkness
  • 39% of officers said lighting conditions were a contributing factor
  • 10% of officers said the use of a flashlight was a contributing factor
  • 4 deaths were attributed to not using a flashlight
  • Average time since last night-training was 4.6 months

Now that we see that low light training is important to officer survival, what are we doing to implement and ensure that our officers have what they need? Sadly, I feel that most departments pay lip service to low light training. The typical night firearms training will consist of waiting for dusk or night conditions, lining our shooters up on a static firing line and facing static targets downrange. Next, we have everyone draw their weapon and flashlight, point both downrange, and then fire a prescribed number of rounds. When no one shoots either the instructor or another shooter, we conclude that we have successfully conducted our night firing course. The admin types are happy, since we have satisfied the once a year night shooting requirement, and we go merrily on our way for another year.

But stop and think, what just happened? What has that type of training, or more appropriately characterized as non-training, done to ensure that our officers are prepared to operate and do battle in a low light situation? Truth be known, we just wasted time, ammunition, and battery power, for we have failed to give them the instruction they need to survive. What we should have done is to have the officers try different flashlight techniques, i.e., Rogers, Chapman, FBI, and Harries, to name a few. Next, have the officers moving and shooting using different light techniques, such as strobing. Ideally, having moving targets as well will replicate some situations they are likely to encounter on the street. But simply standing on line and firing at static targets is not low-light training. With the advent of judgmental training simulators that allow the flashlight to be used, AIS/PRISim being one of the companies using laser-based flashlights, the flashlight and pistol can be used in life-like, stressful situations. This type of training gives the officers an understanding of how to marry up both tools while moving and using cover. Without pragmatic, reality-based training, our cops will never master a technique they can truly be confident using.

Our bodies differ greatly from one officer to the next. We vary physiologically and biologically, and our skills and abilities range from acceptable to superior. That being said, there is no "one size fits all" flashlight or flashlight technique. Therefore, we have to provide a training opportunity for our officers to experiment with what works best for them. Which light can they deploy quickly and work in harmony with their weapon? Which one will either fit in their pocket or on the remaining space on their duty belt? The light will not do you any good sitting on the seat of your patrol car, or in the pocket of your jacket hanging in the back seat. If you are on duty, that light must be with you!

Some other quick thoughts about low light: most would consider low light to be our enemy, but if you master the flashlight it becomes an ally. Darkness allows us to move without detection, and we control our adversary's ability to see us and anything else. The brilliant, strobing, unpredictable light becomes a "force option," causing confusion and fear in our subject. Movement combined with blinding light gives you a superior position, one which demoralizes and causes extreme consternation in what would normally have been an opponent with an advantage.

Remember also that light without movement can equal death. Think of being on the opposite side of the light. Your first inclination, indeed your only option, is to fire at the light. If that light is steady and with no movement, that shot is a "K5" shot. Always think in reverse images, what I see of the bad guy, the bad guy sees of me.

A final thought...any piece of equipment can fail. I don't care if you paid $150.00 or $50.00 for that light, there is a possibility that it will stop working when you need it most. The solution is to carry two. Flashlights are so compact today that carrying two is no burden whatsoever. There is an old theory which states, "Two is one and one is none." That adage applies here as well. Low light training puts us ahead of the power curve if conducted properly and regularly. Get on it, my friends!