Brighter is better

I’m back talking about flashlights. This time it’s backup, off-duty and specialty lights. Once again, I have to work hard to justify talking about flashlights in a Firearms Tactics column. I was going to be facetious about this, but I learned a...


I’m back talking about flashlights. This time it’s backup, off-duty and specialty lights.

Once again, I have to work hard to justify talking about flashlights in a Firearms Tactics column. I was going to be facetious about this, but I learned a lesson or two about carrying certain things along the way.

While searching the interior of a large factory for an armed suspect, my primary torch went out. My backup was what everyone carried at the time: a Mini MagLite (this was before it was popular to add a TerraLUX upgrade, which would have changed this story altogether).

I guess I should have expected it. There was a fatal crash earlier and I was traffic control for a couple of hours on a busy intersection. My light had been on the whole time.

On the armed suspect call I ended up searching a warehouse-sized room with long rows of shelving containing electrical parts on either side. The factory was closed, but there was an air compressor and another noisy piece of equipment that kept starting and stopping randomly. I radioed to the nearby officer about my light. About that time he spotted the suspect, who, still armed, surrendered. The next day, I ordered a backup light, an early model Laser Devices hand light, which served me well for several years.

The difference between a backup light and an off-duty light is their primary application, although their descriptions commonly overlap. The backup light is the tool that goes on duty with an officer for the purpose of seamless operation. That is, if the officer was searching for a suspect in a warehouse and his primary light goes down, he can reach for the backup light and continue the mission without modification.

The off-duty light is for staying off duty, which includes assisting uniformed officers to incidents in which the off-duty officer should not get involved. Note the language is to incidents, not in incidents.

Backup light and duty light techniques should not vary. If the officer uses a Harries Technique (back of the hand to back of the hand) with the duty light, the same technique should be used for the backup. Usually I recommend officers get lights with similar form factor and operation, using the same logic as the backup gun. The best backup guns take the same magazines and have the same type of operation as the duty gun. Often, they are smaller combinations of the full sized firearm, like a Glock 22/Glock 27 or Ruger SR40/SR40C combination. For those officers who have won the lottery recently, it can be the Kimber Tactical Custom II, Ultra CDP II.

With off-duty lights, the part that most users forget is the fact that not only is the light going to be smaller, the gun will be, too. When practicing or shopping for these lights, officers should wrap their grip on their 5-shot revolver or lightweight auto to make a purchase decision.

Specialty lights have a different purpose for their illumination, but serve an alternate law enforcement purpose: this can be distraction, color rendition, searching or personal illumination.

Tactical considerations

Off duty, an officer is less likely to carry other equipment like a TASER or OC spray. Flashlight makers have responded to this by machining aggressive grips and sharp edges into their lights. While this increases their utility, they should never be considered weapons by any means. Still, if the light is in the hand, the sharp edges can create distance. Place the sharp bezel of any of the lights here on someone’s sternum or similar body part and push to see what I mean.

Brighter is better. The lights here are not only bright, they are designed to sustain brightness without cooking the lens or the owner.

Dual purpose lights means the officer can carry less on the belt. The 80-lumen TerraLUX LightStar 80 (2xAAA) is not quite as bright as its contemporaries, but it can also be employed for evidence location and off duty. It has two features, besides a 5-hour runtime on two AAA cells: It uses a Hight CRI LED, which renders true (natural light) colors and it has a replaceable bite grip (yes, it goes between the teeth) for a hands-free grip. This light has an output that appears brighter than its specifications.

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