Many years ago I was assigned to the agricultural crimes unit with my old sheriff’s department. Our unit did a lot of surveillance in rural areas using video recording systems that could be buried in the ground and left in place for weeks. The narcotics unit was seeing an increase in marijuana grows concealed inside orchards. My unit was asked to do a surveillance install on one of the grows. We snuck into the orchard in the middle of the night using our fancy new night vision devices (NVDs). As we crept into the orchard I fell in love with my night vision. When the column came to a stop and I turned to cover our backs, I realized how unprepared I was; I had not worked out how to aim my rifle while using the NVDs. That night in the orchard I became very interested in this issue.
The military has been using infrared (IR) aiming lasers to accurately aim infantry small arms while using night vision devices for years. They began as IR aiming lasers and have grown to the current PEQ15A, which includes an IR aiming laser, visible aiming laser and IR illuminator all in one unit. Unfortunately, sales of these devices are controlled by laws and regulations enforced by the government, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (because it is a radiation-emitting device that must meet safety performance standards), making the acquisition of one problematic. Law enforcement and the military can purchase the higher powered units from the manufacturer, but individuals cannot. A “civilian” or commercially available IR aiming laser has been the topic of many discussions over the years. Demand has been high and has steadily increased as night vision devices become more available and higher in quality. Some agencies have been reluctant to issue higher powered IR lasers to officers because of the concern with eye safety of the various classes of the technology.
This year I was blown away at the 2011 SHOT Show when I stopped at the Laser Devices booth and struck up a conversation with Jason Clark, a junior production engineer. The company had a new line of Class I IR lasers. Clark explained that these are eye-safe and available for sale to individuals. That was when my jaw dropped. Clark took out a Class I OTAL and DBAL-I2 to show me and I ended up buying the OTAL. I later learned I had purchased one of the first six Class I lasers ever produced by Laser Devices.
When I got home I arranged to put the Class I head to head with a DBAL-A2 that has a restricted Class III IR laser.
Inside buildings I could see the difference in brightness between the two IR lasers, but both were effective.
The difference became more apparent at about 40 yards and beyond. The brightness of the Class I dropped off while the Class III remained bright. Laser Devices rates the Class I lasers to be visible out to 75 meters (or 82 yards). In the urban environment of my neighborhood I was able to pick up the laser at about 100 yards, but this was dependent on what type of surface I was aiming at. Out on my parent’s farm away from street lights and such, it was easier to pick up the IR laser at distances of (and just beyond) 100 yards. This is not perfect, but it is within the vast majority of law enforcement lethal force encounters.
I set up a tour with Clark to take me through the Laser Devices headquarters and manufacturing facility in Monterey, Calif. Manufacturing, testing and quality control are all housed on one floor, with staff from each area interacting on a regular basis. From my perspective, it appeared that if any issues arose in the process they would be easily identified and rectified quickly with the least amount of product affected. This is a good business practice for the company and for the purchasers, as a bad lot costs money and puts lives at risk. Assembly of the components and the final product is done predominately by hand by skilled workers. Thermal, recoil simulation and submersion testing is done on each laser. A battery of tests is regularly completed on sample units to ensure quality control, including any customer requested custom testing. Clark pulled out a water exposure testing apparatus that he designed for a contract with specific requirements beyond Laser Devices’ extensive standard testing. Everywhere I went I saw examples of the pride that the people at Laser Devices had in the knowledge that what they made was being used by American soldiers and law enforcement officers.