Police officers need every advantage available to be able to hold their own in the challenges they face each day. Every tool they carry helps, but they can only carry so many. That’s why the introduction of the hand-held FLIR
(Forward Looking Infrared) H-Series law enforcement thermal imager is an important addition to any department, for tactical or drug enforcement teams, or for any officer.
Our tactical team recently had the opportunity to review the FLIR H-Series Thermal Night Vision Camera. FLIR Systems Inc. is a manufacturer of infrared cameras, night vision and thermal imaging systems. The company’s products play a role in a wide range of industrial, commercial and government activities in more than 60 countries. The company has been supplying thermography and night vision equipment to science industries, law enforcement and the military for more than 30 years.
The H-Series camera operates on thermal imaging technology, so any heat emitted from an object or person will be detected in total darkness, whereas night vision devices only enhance available light. Also, because H-Series cameras see heat, not light, they can see suspects who are wearing dark clothing while hiding in bushes. People can’t hide their heat, so they will be detectable with the H-Series no matter what they are wearing.
The FLIR H-Series camera features a rubberized, rugged, all-weather design that is appropriate for urban applications. The flip-down lens and shuttered eyepiece keep a covert mission covert. The H-Series camera features a 2X zoom capability, still image and video recording on an SD card, and a 2.0 USB connection to transfer the SD contents to your computer.
The camera has two-sided hand straps for both left- and right-handed use and provides all the user function buttons on top of the unit for easy access. The unit runs on rechargeable batteries that provide up to five hours of continuous operation. A great feature of the H-Series camera is the “white/black hot button” which lets the user toggle between having hotter objects appear as either white or black with contrasting surroundings.
Upon first holding the FLIR H-Series camera, it was very comfortable, and at under a pound and a half in weight, it feels similar to holding a small camcorder. Booting time is about 90 seconds. Therefore, the unit should be left on at all times during a tour of duty in case it needs to be used in an emergency situation. In one case where I needed to use it quickly, I found the long start-up time to be an issue.
The FLIR H-Series camera was first put to use after the dispatcher called out an anonymous “person with a gun call” in which an unknown person was observed hiding a gun in the bushes of an empty lot. A satisfactory and thorough search of the area was conducted, including a scan with the thermal imager, which yielded negative results. We decided there was no gun on the premises.
If there had been, I believe the thermal imager would have aided in locating it. The gun would have been displayed as a “hot” object through the FLIR viewfinder if it had recently been fired or if it was still warm from the body heat of a person hiding it. I believe potential evidence, such as weapons, would be detected by the H-Series.
On a different night, our team conducted narcotics surveillance from the rooftop of a three-flat building. Given that there were many street lights lining the street just a few feet below our surveillance point, we found it difficult to get a clear view of what was going on at street level. The FLIR H-Series camera was utilized; however, with so much light being emitted from the street lights, the heat from the bulbs was so brightly enhanced that it was problematic to see anything at street level. Even though we were unable to use the FLIR camera on this operation, if ground level surveillance had been an option, we would have used the H-Series and it would have aided us in our surveillance.
The FLIR camera also detects heat emitted from a vehicle’s engine compartment and tires. Therefore, an officer can determine if a vehicle’s engine was recently running or if the vehicle was recently in use. The H-Series can be used to help locate vehicles that may have fled the scene of a hit-and-run accident or that may have been fleeing from the police if nothing other than a vehicle description is available.
The thermal night vision camera can also be used to search low-light areas for fugitives, to identify any suspects outside buildings before executing search warrants, and to quickly scan areas before approaching any high-risk situations. Binoculars would not be very useful in low light or in total darkness. The use of the H-Series camera would provide better assistance to officers in locating subjects in such circumstances.
Thermal night vision cameras are one of the tools that every agency should have available. The addition of cameras such as the FLIR H-Series camera will aid officers in everyday situations, and they are now affordable enough for any police department to have one.
FLIR has priced its H-Series at $4,999 so that agencies can afford to equip officers or teams with the tactical advantages that H-Series thermal cameras provide compared to legacy night vision devices, making nighttime operations safer and more effective than ever before. Juan Duran is a tactical officer in the Chicagoland area. He has been in law enforcement for five years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.