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How to zero in on your target – night or day

Axion thermal imaging devices offer expanded features at a cost within reach


Thermal imaging scopes like the Axion series monoculars enhance officers’ abilities to find hidden suspects, discarded evidence and missing persons.


Sponsored by Pulsar

By Warren Wilson for Police1 BrandFocus

There is a principle in law enforcement tactics called “plus one.” It means that just because you find the suspect you are looking for, you don’t stop looking. You assume there’s always one more and search thusly.

When I was a relatively new patrol sergeant, we had finally located a suspect who’d just committed a violent crime in the overnight hours. It had taken a few hours of slow and meticulous searching with flashlights to find him in an alleyway. I allowed myself and the search team to be overwhelmed with the relief of a safe conclusion to the incident. We relaxed and began chatting about the case. One of my patrolmen who is now an excellent sergeant quietly said, “plus one.”

We all got back to work and within a few minutes, located a second suspect lying just a few yards away. He had been with the primary suspect during the assault, but witnesses didn’t see him and didn’t report that information to us. Had this suspect been inclined toward violence against us, we would have had a bad day.

I cringe when I think of how many other times we were unable to locate an item (probably a firearm or narcotics) we knew had been dumped during a vehicle or foot pursuit. Or the number of times we searched for lost children or elderly people with dementia and how long it took to find them.

I don’t know how many other times over the last few decades I could have used night vision of some kind, but that number would easily be in the dozens. Our department had a few military surplus models that cost somewhere in the five-digit range but there weren’t enough available to issue to patrol – mostly due to their cost.

Thermal detection technology made more affordable

Since then, night vision equipment that uses light collection to create an image has mostly given way to thermal detection devices. Thermal detection differs from traditional night vision (which gathers light to create an image). “Thermals” detect heat sources emitted from things like the human body, vehicle engines and objects like discarded firearms. In fact, any object which contrasts significantly from the heat signature of their background can be discerned by a thermal detection device.

Why is the distinction between traditional night vision and thermal imaging important? Light gathering devices are only helpful in low light situations. However, heat signatures are distinguishable even in the daylight and even for a short time after the heat source has left the area. Still, the early versions of this equipment were pretty pricey as well.

Today, we are blessed with technology which has made this equipment much less cost prohibitive. Pulsar’s Axion series of monoculars is a good example. With MSRPs ranging from $2089.99 to $2859.99 and street prices of about $300 lower, almost any agency could find a way to purchase one or even a few. This advance in technology has not only resulted in more palatable prices, but also an increase in affordable features.

The Axion adds features like smartphone integration, customizable palette

Pulsar offers the Axion in three models: XM30, XM 38, and Key XM30. “Key” models feature 960x720 LCOS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) micro-displays. XM30 and XM38 models have 1024x768 HD displays and include Wi-Fi connectivity which allows your smart phone to act as a remote control or secondary viewing screen.

All Axion thermal monoculars have picture-in-picture, 320x240 microbolometer sensor resolution and 12μm pixel pitch for improved imaging at increased magnification, as well as in adverse environments. They also all have 8-color palette image options. The user chooses the optimal palette depending on the environment, background, how it will be used and personal preference. For example, the “White-Hot” palette shows warmer objects in white and cooler objects in black. “Sepia” displays warmer temperatures in yellow and cooler temperatures in black. The Sepia palette minimizes eye strain for longer missions such as surveillance. Each of the Axions has an IPX7 waterproof rating which means they are submersible in three feet of water for up to 30 minutes. The Axions all feature a textured all-metal (magnesium alloy) body. These two features help to make them rugged enough for cop work.

Depending on the model you choose, Axion monoculars can detect heat signatures from 1400 to 1850 yards away and offer zoom magnification ranges from 2.5x-10x all the way up to 5.5x-22x power. Any of the three models can be easily carried in a pocket, however, the Key XM30 and XM30 only weigh in at 8.8 ounces.

If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen

There’s another old saying in police work: If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen. The term, “documentation” in law enforcement once meant writing good reports and taking copious photographs. Today, it also means videoing as much of our work as possible. Video recordings assist officers in establishing probable cause for a warrant or helping to make a case for prosecution. The Axion XM30 and XM38 models come with fully functioning thermal camera technology for both still photos and video recording with 16gb of internal storage. This is a must-have feature for any such device in modern law enforcement.

Felony Hide-and-Seek

Anyone who has been in law enforcement for a while, will have their own stories of felony hide-and-seek. Those same officers can attest to how much fun it is not. They could also speak to the frustration and stress in looking for a lost child or firearm discarded by a suspect during a pursuit. The consequences of failing in these searches could be catastrophic. Thermal imaging devices are better than ever and greatly enhance our ability to do our jobs safely and protect our public more effectively. Since the cost of thermal detection is so much less prohibitive, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be an option for every patrol operation.

About the author

Warren Wilson is a lieutenant with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team leader, current firearms instructor and writer. He has been a full-time law enforcement officer since 1996.