I've written about lights previously ( Lights & Lasers, September, p. 54) and will build on this theme in this article with reviews of two of the newest additions to law enforcement lighting gear. But first, a quick review of flashlights is in order.
Evolution of technology has brought us the light-emitting diode (LED) revolution. Incandescent bulbs with breakable filaments will soon be like computer floppy disks outmoded. I ve found in the rough conditions of police work that dropped lights break filament bulbs. New LED technology affords greater durability, compact size, endurance and enhanced lighting capacity.
As I unpacked new models from SureFire and Safariland, I was reminded by my deputy chief that back-in-the-day, we started with Louisville Slugger-sized flashlights that held a half-dozen D-cells. The beam of light from these heavy duties was often yellow due to cold-weather battery drain.
SureFire was the first to make serious sales inroads into our work. Starting with the company s early 6P light that used two lithium DL123 batteries, we gained a very compact, sturdy and bright handheld light. The push-button tail cap with momentary lighting was an immediate hit. One downside was the one-hour run time on a set of batteries that, in the early 1990s, cost $10 for a pair. But it was clear that setting aside cost, lithium batteries for serious lights was and remains the order of the day. We then made use of the SureFire systems in our long guns, and although dated, we continue to use them 15 years later.
The batteries that cost $5 each now often cost less than $1, and the run life keeps improving. Example: Years ago I wanted a small, personal-sized light for everyday, everywhere carry. I decided on the small SureFire Executive E1 model that runs on one 3V lithium battery, and carried it on my belt in a small Batman pouch made by Ripoff Brand Products. With two spare batteries, I had three hours of 15-lumen light at hand for use in any emergency.
SureFire then upgraded the same model with an LED that brought the run time to nearly three hours. I just received the new LumaMax LED version of this mighty mite, and it runs almost 1.5 hours for tactical-level lighting and 16 hours for low-level needs. Other manufacturers light run times approach 50 hours.
Are All LEDs Created Equal?
Isn t one LED the same as the next? Those who build them say no. For instance, some LEDs have circuit controllers that maintain light levels so the light doesn t drop off.
As I traveled to our sister tactical officer association conferences and the SHOT Show in 2007, I heard rumors that LED technology had developed significantly. The name CREE kept popping up as a manufacturer of superior LEDs. Through the Internet grapevine came word that a CREE LED replacement bulb for the SureFire 6P series could be had through a Hong Kong company.
With some reservation, I sent the order, and a few weeks later three samples arrived. I substituted the bulb/bezel into my trusty 6P and fired it up. The beam intensity and focus was such a significant improvement that I was amazed.
I then called SureFire and was told that it will incorporate such technology into its American-built designs with the addition of a light-regulating chip. They followed through with the newest pistol/long gun light, the X-300.
The SureFire X-300
The X-300 arrived just before this article s deadline. I switched it on and, running on the pair of standard 3V lithium batteries it came with, the light blasted a 110-lumen concentrated beam into the room. In the dark, the X-300 gives clear illumination up to 50 yards away.
The light s picatinny-type mount allows you to attach the light to both handguns and long guns with rail mount points. And with the easy addition of a grip pressure switch, the X-300 truly stands out. The hard form trigger-guard switch (see the photos) follows the contour of the trigger guard.
You activate it by pressing the middle finger knuckle of your gripping gun hand into the switch end it s as simple as squeezing your hand. Unlike loose wire switches, there s nothing to snag or twist. The switch affords true one-hand operation that can prove critical on the street.
The difference between the X-300 and the previous X-200 A and B models is significant. The new light s total internal reflective (TIR) lens directs a very intense, focused beam. Having used many lights, I prefer the tight focused beam over the wide corona types that have an expanded but weaker light radius.
Safariland s Rapid Light System (RLS) offers a novel approach to mounting a weapon light. The light is encased in a module that clips to your belt when not in use. Drawn from the belt, the 65-lumen light system has a picatinny-type interface with a locking section that rotates for either right or left hand attachment to the rail. You activate the light via a rear push button.
You can carry the RLS on your belt as a regular-use light and, when needed, quickly mate the light to the handgun. Of course, you can t reholster the weapon with the light attached, and that s a downside.
Some administrators still prohibit dedicated weapon-mounted lights. At a recent class, one K-9 officer stated such was the case at his agency. He badly needs a light because K-9 responds to find criminals who don t care to surrender. Danger is often high, and he s forced to choose between a leash in one hand and either a light or pistol in the other. With the Safariland RLS, he can join the two very quickly and remain within a policy badly in need of revision.
The RLS uses three AAA batteries, and the company says it will run for 50-hours on those batteries. You can purchase the mount alone and use many other 1" diameter lights with it in place of the Safariland light. It s worth consideration for use on both handguns and long guns.
Safety & Tactics
Each of us must take into account the conditions we work in. For close-in work where we can use light not only for illumination/identification but as a fighting tool, intensity surely matters. SureFire regards a 60-lumen or higher light to be a tactical light; i.e., light at this intensity can temporarily blind or disorient the person targeted.
Most of us have had our night vision destroyed by another officer inadvertently shining their light into our face. The blind spot this creates should serve as a potent reminder of what you can do with this power as well.
The accidental backlighting of officers is another issue. I ve seen this occur far too often as officers move up on a house or vehicle.
To reduce such events, I prefer a light system that has both a pressure-type switch that allows momentary lighting, and a permanent on switch for those times when you need continuous light. In situations where officers are searching for dangerous criminals, momentary intentional light is most desirable. Turn the light on to visualize, turn the light off and move. To those who mean you harm, light can serve as a beacon. Set your gear up in a manner that minimizes the opportunity for accidental lighting.
Product preference also rests on my confidence in the product, the company and the price. In other words, does it work, will the company stand behind the item and is it worth the price?
What I find useful and prefer may not be your choice. These types of lights run from $80 $300. Some cost more than our duty handguns did when I began my law enforcement career. But there s no free lunch. You want the best when your safety depends on it.
Aside from any discussion of make and model, learn to use your light in all conditions. Seek out reputable trainers to learn the techniques, then practice.
Regarding those lights I ve replaced, they serve family and friends as I continue reminding them to keep a light on their person to change a tire at night, get down a dark or smoke-filled stairway, signal for assistance, etc. Sometimes I have to just give them one to make sure.
Vendor Web Sites:
Surefire - www.surefire.com
Safariland - www.safariland.com
Ripoffs Brand Products - www.ripoffs.com