Use both a weapon and handheld light; also train for no flashlights.
Low-Light Patrol Tips
By: Jim Weiss and Mickey Davis
The first advice in surviving low light patrol is to be well-rested. The vast majority of law enforcement officers do not get the required seven to eight daily hours of sleep. Besides the obvious health issues associated with being tired, when the eyes are fatigued, they begin to miss details.
When this occurs in a low/no light situation, the officer may miss a furtive movement or tell-tale signs that the suspect is sizing up the officer before an attack or gun grab, or a suspect is waiting in ambush. As much as possible, avoid fatigue.
Remember that night operations are different, so train in the environment and conditions in which you will operate. The old adage “train like you fight, fight like you train” definitely applies to police night operations.
Placing officers in a structurally simulated training environment where they learn experientially with adequate safety measures in place is paramount to being successful. When the critical incident occurs, their mind and body will perform as if they have been there before. This will increase an officer’s chances of “winning” versus just “surviving.”
The right gear, of course, begins with flashlights. On the well-equipped officer, that means both a weapon light attachment to the duty gun as well as a handheld flashlight carried in its holster. More than one light is necessary.
Weapon-mounted flashlights are used in some searches like building clearing but shouldn’t be used in other situations like car searches. Training with a flashlight should include the ability to turn the light on or off instantly, and to holster it without looking.
Think strobe feature. The idea behind using a strobe light is to disorientate the bad guy, and dramatically minimize his/her prospective threat responses. This technique is good for raids, search warrants, and high-risk subjects. However, your flashlight’s strobe effect may affect your own depth perception, orientation, and focus on the subject.
Practice with a flashlight and weapon attachment, turning the light/strobe on and off. Learn when and where to use it. Do not keep the light activated continuously, as this will affect your night vision; an exception is the traffic stop. Use quick strobes when searching. Cover and concealment with the weapon are done without having your body touch the side of a wall.
The use of a weapon-mounted flashlight has these same weapons-use general rules: Wherever the eyes go, the weapon goes, finger off trigger until ready to shoot. You could shoot a partner in the back if not trained correctly in the proper use of the trigger.
Low Light Movement
If you are in a well-lit area and the bad guy is in a low-light area, move out of the lighted area quickly. The bad guy can see you and you are almost in a fatal funnel situation. A bad guy can easily track your position when your flashlight is on; use it intermittently. Look constantly to paint your opponent in bad light.
When clearing/searching buildings and rooms with the gun-mounted flashlight, the light should be flicked on briefly to orientate yourself and see, then flicked off before moving; flick and move, flick and move around corners, etc. As a preference, some law enforcement officers search with the strobe light while others don’t. Going into prone or kneeling positions will limit mobility, so you may not want to do this unless taking rounds.
Once a subject is located and you know where he is, bright light in the subject’s eyes can give the patrol officer an advantage, taking away his vision. While his eyes are adjusting to the light, give your commands and begin control tactics, using the least amount of force necessary. Movement through an open field or a warehouse can be different.
Room Clearing, Traffic Stops
As a rule, never clear a room by yourself. Paint a path prior to moving using a short burst of light, then move. Do not move with the light turned on. Clearing with a team of two is slow, but as the saying goes, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”
An exception is when a room, such as a bathroom, can only hold one searcher; this is done by collaborating with your partner. There are also a few other exceptions to the “never clear a room by yourself” rule; for example, the patrol response to the active shooter scenario is different.
When the subject is seen, keep the light on him/her at all times, give your orders and watch his/her movements. Your partner can get around him/her and secure him/her. At this point, the building or room’s lights can be turned on to ensure further officer safety. Know and practice with your zone partners so you don’t have to speak to know what the other is doing. Also, train to see yourself from the perspective of the bad guy so you know what he sees.
The technique to use on a low-light traffic stop is different from a take-down in a building or field in that the light is on and shining in the eyes of the subject at all times until you know you are safe. The light blocks the subject’s view in his review mirror, and lights up the inside of the car to allow you to see who else is there, in the rear seat, or in the trunk. In a traffic stop, the more light you have the better, because it conceals you.
Handheld Flashlight Techniques
If the weapon light fails, there are many techniques for combining the duty pistol with the handheld flashlight so you can simultaneously deploy them in their most effective ways. The best method is the one you practice so it becomes automatic. Improperly used flashlight techniques can be a death warrant.
One technique is to hold the flashlight at random heights so the threat cannot determine your exact position. Be sure not to telegraph your movements or silhouette yourself or your partner (backlight) as this will give the bad guy an opportunity to target you. Among the various low-light shooting techniques for simultaneous use of firearms and handheld flashlights are the FBI, Neck-Index, Rogers/Surefire, Hargreaves “Light Touch” and Ayoob.
With the FBI Technique, the flashlight is held with the arm extended away from the body. The lens is slightly out from the body to avoid illuminating the user. This allows the user to search with the flashlight independent of aiming his/her weapon. It also masks the precise location of the deputy or officer by keeping the light away from the body, thus confusing the bad guy.
In the Neck Index Technique, the flashlight is in the user’s support hand. The body of the flashlight rests on the user’s shoulder and is indexed against the neck below the ear. This allows the light to move in conjunction with the user’s head as he searches and moves.
Using the Harries technique, the flashlight is held in an ice pick grip. The thumb or finger operates the on/off switch, whether it is located in the tail cap or is body-mounted. The shooter’s wrists nest together, and the backs of the hands are firmly pressed together to create stabilizing isometric tension.
For large flashlights, the body of the flashlight may be rested on the shooting hand’s forearm. To hold the flashlight with the weapon, put it in your support hand under the weapon with the back of the wrists pressed together. This enables a steadier, more stable support for the weapon.
Additional Low Light Tips
Don’t flag the gun with the handgun noticeably extended ahead of your body when clearing corners, peeking, going through doorways, or close quarter situations. Keep your handgun low and tucked in close to your chest in such incidents. It is easy for a bad guy to disarm you when at close quarters and you flag the gun. The general rule is muzzle down for movement and up when needed.
Use stealth. The bad guy or threat can often see you coming and knows where you are if he/she can hear you. Be sure you see the bad guy’s weapon and be certain that he/she is a threat. For example, if he/she has a knife, is he/she stationary or coming toward you? Train constantly in your own home, including practicing movement, Close Quarter Combat tactics, and low light techniques.
Be confident with your equipment. Carry a flashlight even on day shift. With a handgun-mounted flashlight system, practice with the gun light turned on in either hand in case the dominate hand is disabled.
Check your equipment before each shift. No matter how reliable your light is, be aware that it can fail when you need it the most. And, while fancy battery-powered gear is sweet, learn iron sight mastery for when the electronics aren’t effective.
The authors wish to thank Mark Allen Prince, a former USDOE SRT operator, and Corporal David Rodriguez of the Pasco County, Fla. Sheriff’s Office for their assistance in how to survive low light patrol.
Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, Ohio, Police Department and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER. Mickey Davis is a California-based writer and author.