In recent years, there's been a quantum leap in light technology utilized by law enforcement officers. Whether handheld or weapon mounted, modern lights are smaller, lighter and more powerful than ever before.
One interesting trend has been the evolution of gun-mounted lights for pistols. A mere decade ago, the use of gun-mounted lights was limited to SWAT operators, and the lights were seldom, if ever, used by patrol officers. That situation has changed dramatically. More departments are exploring the possibility of gun-mounted lights for patrol. Handgun manufacturers are turning out pistols with integral accessory rails for mounting of white lights or lasers, and holster manufacturers are producing duty holsters that can accommodate pistols with a mounted light.
These developments have made this technology a viable option for patrol. But exactly what advantages do gun-mounted lights bring to the table? Is it really worth the expense of buying lights and a new duty holster?
A quick check of the numbers illustrates the cost can be significant for any agency, large or small, but in the end, enhanced officer performance and a greater safety margin are well worth it. Historically, most police shootings have taken place in low-light environments. A number of definitive sources have put this number in the 60 80 percent range. And the consequences at night are greater, too. Most police officers feloniously slain in the line of duty are killed between 1800 hrs and 0600 hrs.
Handheld flashlights provide a partial fix but aren't the perfect solution. Over the years, a number of techniques have been developed to coordinate flashlight use with the pistol. Flashlight-assisted searching and shooting techniques are indeed something every law enforcement officer must have in their tool box. However, extreme stress, surprise attacks, dynamic movement and non-typical shooting positions can wreak havoc on an officer's ability to coordinate light and gun. Unless the gun and light are pre-deployed before the bad guy begins shooting, it's unlikely you'll be able to work the light into the fight.
Humans are visual creatures, relying on our vision to help us make the right decisions. Clearly, officers denied their primary sensory receptor are at a serious disadvantage in poor light when discriminating between threats and non-threats. If the situation is serious enough to justify drawing the firearm to manage a threat, a gun-mounted light provides an officer with the means to assess potentially lethal behavior. (Important: Never use them for routine searching or probing.)
Gun-mounted lights are always properly aligned with the muzzle of the pistol. If an officer must apply deadly force with the handgun, a gun-mounted light allows a normal two-handed hold on the pistol. Operational activities, such as drawing, reloading, clearing stoppages and working from various ready positions are also easier with gun-mounted lights, and vital tactics, such as movement with the gun, shooting while moving and maximizing use of cover, are also enhanced.
First-generation lights for pistols were relatively large, used incandescent lamps and required tools to mount or remove. Also, these lights weren't readily adaptable to duty holsters, and as a consequence, their use was pretty much restricted to SWAT and military personnel.
With second-generation units, lights were smaller and lighter, and their quick mount/dismount capabilities made them perfect mates for contemporary pistols with accessory rails. Third-generation lights feature many of the attributes of popular second-generation lights but are equipped with bright light-emitting diode (LED) lamps. LEDs are shockproof and not susceptible to mechanical failure. This is certainly good news for weapon lights because muzzle blast has been known to break the filament of an incandescent lamp.
Let's take a look at some of the latest offerings.
Insight Tech Gear
Insight Tech Gear has been an industry leader for years, and it continues to raise the bar in the development of weapon-mounted lights. A decade ago, Insight introduced the M-3 Tactical Illuminator, a quick mount, lightweight unit ideal for both patrol and tactical operations. This year, Insight has come out with the Procyon, a highly advanced illuminator with a number of desirable qualities.
The Procyon is equipped with a shockproof, high-intensity LED that puts out 125 lumens of blinding white light. Insight crafted the Procyon out of hard-coated anodized aluminum, and the light's external dimensions are identical to the earlier M-3 light. A wide range of holsters is already available for the M-3, so officers opting to upgrade to the Procyon will have little trouble finding the appropriate duty rig.
Power is supplied by a pair of 123 3V lithium batteries with a run time of approximately 90 minutes. The Procyon is equipped with an adjustable rail interface and is adaptable to all standard rail configurations. An ambidextrous, multi-function switch can be set for momentary, constant-on or strobe operation. Remote switches for the Procyon will also be available.
Blackhawk Products Group
Last year, Blackhawk added the Xiphos NT (Next Technology) to its NightOps line of lights. The Xiphos NT is a 3V pistol-mounted LED light that puts out 65 lumens of light. With a body made of carbon fiber and polymer, the Xiphos weighs only 2.6 oz. It too features momentary, constant-on and strobe operations via an ambidextrous switch.
The Xiphos NT is unique in that it is designed to mount to the pistol offset either to the right or left for use in Blackhawk's Level 3 SERPA holster. By offsetting the light, the locking device of the SERPA holster can secure the trigger guard of the pistol and prevent unauthorized removal.
The Xiphos/SERPA combination is currently available for Glock and Smith & Wesson .45 ACP M&P pistols.
TLR-1 & TLR-2
Streamlight is also marketing a family of gun-mounted lights that rate a hard look. The TLR-1 is outfitted with a shockproof, high-flux LED that puts out 80 lumens of white light. The TLR-1 has an ambidextrous switch you can activate for momentary or constant-on operation. A remote pressure switch is also available. A simple adjustment allows the end user to precisely fit the TLR-1 to pistols with 1913 or Glock spec rails.
In addition to the TLR-1, Streamlight also produces the TLR-2 with a laser aimer. This gives the user the ability to not only to locate and assess a potential threat, but also to obtain a reliable, sighted index if deadly force is justified. The laser aimer of the TLR-2 is adjustable for windage and elevation.
SureFire enjoys a reputation as a manufacturer of high-quality fight tools, and its new X300 is true to that tradition. A solid-state, electronically regulated LED generates 110 lumens of light, enough to overwhelm an aggressor's night-adapted vision. Light output of the X300 is noticeably superior to that of the groundbreaking, earlier X200, particularly at extended distance outdoors.
The X300 can be adapted to both Glock-style or picatinny rails with SureFire's proprietary Rail-Lock system. An ambidextrous switch gives the user the option of either momentary or constant-on operation, and remote pressure switches are also available. SureFire has recently introduced the X400, which combines the features of the X300 with a laser aimer.
For the patrol officer, a dedicated duty holster to accommodate the gun with the mounted light is an absolute requisite. Belt clips that store the light separate from the pistol represent too much wishful thinking. Assuming one had the time to draw the gun, affix the light and get into action, reholstering requires removal of the light. If you're holding a suspect at gunpoint, the potential consequences of removing the light in a threat-management situation pose far too great a risk.
Light-bearing duty holsters are available from a variety of sources. As indicated earlier, Blackhawk manufactures a Level 3 SERPA holster for the Xiphos light, and it makes Level 2 holsters for other light/gun combinations. Safariland also produces a variety of holsters in different styles and finishes.
The Safariland 6360 remains a personal favorite I highly recommend it.
Training & Policy
Gun-mounted lights can provide officers a real advantage but will come up short if not backed up by training and agency policy. The aforementioned manufacturers either have or are affiliated with trainers who can get you up to speed. Training should include light tactics, operational skills, light discipline and transition from handheld light to gun-mounted light. Agency policy should make it abundantly clear that gun-mounted lights should never be used for routine searching or probing.
A few years back, the Marietta (Ga.) Police Department experienced a number of low-light officer involved shootings. After careful consideration, the department decided to outfit its entire patrol division with a Glock pistol equipped with an Insight M-3 light and a Safariland light-bearing duty holster. It also developed a comprehensive training program and policy to ensure success of the program.
The experience of this progressive 140-person department stands as a positive example of how this technology can be harnessed to gain a tangible advantage.
Having the right equipment to safely get the job done can mean the difference between success and failure. Gun-mounted lights for patrol officers can certainly provide a greater safety net for the officers and the citizens they are sworn to protect. In a stressful, life-threatening situation, a gun-mounted light can give an officer the visual feedback to make the correct decision.