Some officers and police officials have questions about the strobe feature on hand-held LED flashlights. Sometimes the questions are as general as, 'Is there a benefit or liability with the strobe?' Sometimes the questions are as specific as, 'What about the concept of image shifting?' Our opinion in answering these questions is based on years of low light training using force-on-force to verify results.
Strobe lights have been around for a while but not necessarily in flashlights. There are several advantages for using this type of lighting tool in various force situations. We have been able to demonstrate strobing lights can affect three aspects of an individual: 1) balance; 2) depth perception; 3) and peripheral vision. Of course, nothing is 100 percent on every person but we have found pretty repeatable results. We also teach that using a light in this manner is a use of force and should be used as a control tool and not a search tool.
One of the biggest negative consequences with using a strobing light is it may trigger an epileptic seizure in some people. If you conduct your due diligence on this matter you will find out that medically the biggest age group likely to suffer seizure is 14-18 years of age, primarily female and more likely to suffer the onset of seizures by watching TV or playing video games. As long as officers are taught that it is a use of force and applied appropriately, this is a non-issue.
Even if someone suffers a seizure, we provide aid so they don't injure themselves and then take them into custody. Officers should also be taught to evaluate other considerations, just as they would in order to use other less lethal devices, such as: is there a potential fall issue, stairs, roofs, balconies or other unstable platform. When applied correctly and viewed as a low level use of force that actually multiplies the effectiveness of our other tools or tactics, it is perfectly acceptable.
We have received numerous field reports from officers using strobe lights against intoxicated and drugged suspects with very good results as well as some mentally disturbed persons. I have used it on tactical entries with our tactical team on several dogs with good results. Of course, the disclaimer is don't rely on a strobe light to stop most dogs.
Another aspect of strobe effectiveness is simply getting someone's attention. We have reports from Las Vegas Metro motorcycle officers. They have had great results using a strobing light while directing traffic and getting a driver's attention in order to make him stop. We also have military personnel relaying very positive results overseas at checkpoints, etc.
In all of the low light training I have done as well as supervising thousands of students conducting scenarios, I have never seen nor heard of anyone complaining of "image shifting." When viewed from the receiving end of the light, it is definitely possible. We want the suspect to see his world, in that moment, in a series of shifting images (or preferably not see anything at all). We want this because then the subject misses data to make his decisions, while we maintain the ability to see and continue to follow through on our decisions / actions. When viewed from behind, the light does not affect our vision like a disco strobe because of the output and strobe rate.
Some people just don't like the idea of strobing lights. That is fine. Select a flashlight without that feature, or don't use the strobe if the flashlight already has it. But some of us have seen and continue to see the possibilities they offer. The trend is for agencies to issue, or approve, LED flashlights with a strobe feature.
Mark Warren is the Vice President and Director of Training at Strategos International (www.strategosintl.com
). He may be contacted at email@example.com.