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Police Flashlights...The Brightest Technologies

It used to be that when you walked into a police uniform and equipment supplier and asked to buy a duty flashlight, you only had a few choices. Those were: a plastic light that held three D batteries and doubled as a traffic direction light, an aluminum light that held three D batteries, and an aluminum D cell light that had an adjustable beam. That was it. They were all relatively similar in terms of light output. The plastic light was less durable but lighter, and the metal body flashlights were heavier but could double as impact weapons.

Then rechargeable lights came onto the scene; they were made of aluminum so they were durable, and you didn’t have to feed them D cell batteries before every shift. The cost was considerably more, but the lights were very bright and would last for a year or more before requiring a battery stick replacement.

Then lithium battery lights were introduced. These were very bright for such small flashlights (they outclassed the AA battery penlights we once used as back-up lights) and were very rugged as well. Engineers soon mounted them on pistols and submachine guns for tactical operations.

Next came the smaller but still very bright rechargeable flashlights. You could easily carry these smaller lights on your duty belt to ensure you always had a flashlight. Polymer bodies further reduced the weight load you had to carry but still delivered a lot of operational light capacity.

Now the market has dozens of different manufacturers, and the lights have increased in lumen or candela output while adding options such as strobe function, emergency signaling (flashes), sturdy designs that can withstand abuse, and long-life Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs instead of incandescent, halogen or xenon.

Flashlight designers are listening to the end users and have teamed up with low-light trainers to improve the design characteristics of lights so they may be more easily held in combination with the handgun or manipulated under stress. Competition among companies has been good for officers as it has led to lower prices and encouraged manufacturers to further improve designs and functions.

With all the products available on the police marketplace, how do you decide what to buy?

Picking a Flashlight

The selection criteria should be based on: 1) primary or back-up function, 2) lumen or candela output (brightness), 3) size, length and weight, 4) rechargeable or disposable battery, 5) switch design and placement, 6) ruggedness, 7) warranty or customer service, and 8) price.

Primary lights for uniform patrol can be a little bigger than average, but smaller length lights are easier to carry and weight reduction is appreciated. A uniform flashlight must be a high lumen-level output light to be able to pierce the darkness. Rechargeable lights are preferable to reduce overall costs of running the light shift after shift. Patrol lights must be able to survive the “desk drop test,” which means it will not break when it invariably rolls off a desk at the station and hits the floor.

When your assignment prevents you from accessing a 120-volt current or 12-volt power source, disposable battery lights are the way to go. Domestic law enforcement personnel may elect to use disposable battery lights when the flashlight is carried a lot but used very little, for example, if the flashlight is stowed on a SWAT entry vest in the trunk of the car but needs to be ready to go.

The old Navy SEAL adage “one is none and two is one” propagates the tactically sound notion of redundancy in safety equipment. You should have a back-up flashlight because Murphy’s Law is always in effect, especially in darkened warehouses during the day and pitch-black backyards at night. Back-up lights can be carried on the duty belt or clipped to a shirt or pants pocket. In addition, these smaller lights are perfect for plainclothes officers to carry in suit-coat pockets or on their belts.

Glimpse into Newest Lights

With design influence provided by top adverse lighting instructor Ken Goode, Blackhawk! has developed a line of products that are second to none. I recently had the opportunity to run through a low-light pistol operator course using the Blackhawk! Gladius Maximis® as my primary lighting instrument.

The design features and the lumen output of the Maximis were phenomenal. I was able to transition between different shooting positions flawlessly and deliver a disabling amount of white light and gunfire on target. The lumen level of the Maximis is an impressive 120, and it has strobe and dimming functions. It is truly an awesome light with excellent design features.

The 5.11 Tactical Light for Life® was not yet available as this article went to print. With power supplied not by batteries but rather by a “capacitor” that fully recharges in 90 seconds, 5.11 Tactical claims a peak output of 270 lumens and a capability of 50,000 recharges. With options such as strobing, future plans include a smaller-sized light as well. The Light for Life should be delivered prior to this magazine going to print, so we look forward to putting a sample through its paces soon.

Surefire Invictus® has not yet been released but should be by the time you read this. The Invictus, at just over nine inches long, puts out a whopping 350 lumens from its three 123A batteries. Functions include strobe, S.O.S. and eight light settings which can be set from its “selector ring,” mounted just aft of the flashlight head. This LED light can run for 140 hours according to Surefire; it includes a “fuel gauge” that goes from green to yellow and, when your batteries are about depleted, lets you know by changing to red. A cool design from a company known for its superior engineering.

Insight Tech-Gear has just begun shipping a new flashlight called the HX150. According to company literature, this 150-lumen capable flashlight is only 5.9 inches long but is capable of strobe, S.O.S. and 30 other programmable settings and functions from its tailcap switch. Insight reports that this light, powered by two 123 Lithium batteries, can run for two hours on the high setting and an amazing 300 hours on low.

There are a number of excellent companies that provide bright, rugged, reliable and affordable lights for police duty. Be an informed consumer and make your selections wisely. At zero-dark-30 when things go bad and you need it, you want a light that is up to the task and capable of helping you win the fight.

Kevin R. Davis is a full-time law enforcement officer assigned to his agency’s training bureau. With 27 years in police work, he is a former team leader and lead instructor for S.W.A.T. He welcomes your comments at or visit his website at

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2009

Rating : Not Yet Rated

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