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3 things cops should look for in a flashlight fit for duty

The challenge for officers and departments is to identify the purpose of an illumination system and then find the product that best meets their needs

Illumination technology has come a long way in the last few years and it appears a “lumen war,” or the quest to find the largest amount of light possible from a handheld or weapon light, may be in full swing.

However, there has been some noise from the sidelines that tactical handheld and other duty lights have become too bright for close in work. In fact, one industry representative at this year’s SHOT Show suggested that some companies may be dialing it back a bit.

The brighter the light, the bigger the reflection and glare, which can sometimes interfere with an officer’s ability to perform such mundane tasks as writing a ticket or taking notes under the glare of 800 lumens. On the other hand, 800 lumens can reach out and help find, identify, and fix friend or foe alike, and save lives in the process.

With new illumination technologies appearing yearly, specialization in light sources has quickly become the norm. Though it’s certainly possible for a hand-held light to perform double duty as a weapon light, it may not be optimized for both.

The challenge for officers and departments is to identify the purpose of an illumination system and then find the product that best meets their needs.

Competition between the larger, established tactical light producers and smaller manufacturers will not only result in better products but more affordable options.

Three broad categories of consideration may help officers make the right choice from the literally hundreds of available illumination options.

1. Body Material
Officers should consider the construction of the flashlight’s body. Some manufacturers select aluminum bodies, while others prefer polymers. Aluminum and polymer respond to the environment and temperature extremes differently (and weigh differently) so officers need to consider their working environment when selecting a flashlight.

Aluminum more readily responds to extreme cold or hot climates (too hot or too cold to the touch) while a polymer case may not be affected in the same way.

2. Charging Options
Next, the officer needs to decide how he or she wants to charge the flashlight. Again, technology has provided a number of options, but it’s become a trend to move away from the dependence of CR123A batteries and towards more commonly found, less expensive, and easier to ship AA or AAA batteries, even though the latter two may not have the power for the most intensive light systems.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are still abundantly available, with faster charging times and longer lasting run times. Most manufacturers also offer some lights that charge via a USB connection.

3. Illumination Power
Though a hand-held light can perform double duty as a long gun light, it may not always be optimized for both, especially as some companies have moved towards greater specialization. Lights are now often designed more for a single purpose than as a light that can “do it all,” though that’s not always the case.

One of the most interesting things new technology has provided has been variable brightness levels from the same flashlight. Some lights may throw a bright light over distance while others may produce a wide side-to-side beam. Many have a strobe function. However, getting these lights to perform the way you want them to could prove challenging under stress. Some require a series of button clicks to change the brightness level while others depend on a rotary dial.

However, like anything else in police work, the officer needs to train with the more complex lights to assure they work properly when needed.

A number of companies are addressing the wide number of applications for illumination and each has come up with their own way of making an effective light that’s both durable and sustainable.

Retiring after nearly 22 years of active duty in the Army, Lance Eldridge worked as the director of a law enforcement training academy and served as a rural patrol deputy and patrol officer in Colorado. While in the military, he held leadership positions in a variety of organizations and has written extensively about US military strategy, operations, and history. He is a graduate of the US Army’s Command and General Staff College and the Norwegian Staff College. He holds a Masters Degree in History and a Masters Degree in Strategic Intelligence. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in national security strategy, European regional security, US history, and terrorism. He now works in northern Virginia.

Contact Lance Eldridge.