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Finding a Good LED Flashlight for Patrol

Jul 11, 2008
Let's face it, with so many flashlights in the market to choose from today, it can be difficult to find "the" one that is just right. No one ever likes to think they are making a poor choice when they make a purchase, but; it never seems to fail, shortly after you buy something, you'll see something you like more.

For many police officers, flashlights are provided by their departments and they don't get a choice, for others, it's a personal choice and finding the right light can be daunting. Regardless if you are the officer making a decision for a SWAT team, a new cadet buying your first flashlight or an old road dog upgrading your incandescent light that's seen better days, thinking about what you will do with that light will help point you in the right direction.

What do you mean what will I do with it? I'm going to light things up, dummy! Well, you're right; you will light things up with it; but, how, where, when and why? When you are armed with the answers to these questions, you will be able to make a better choice for your needs; that way, when your buddy shows up and you begin to think he got something better, you won't be second guessing your first choice.

For police work there are three types of lights; weapon mounted, vehicle mounted and those that are carried personally. People usually think of personally carried lights when they think of a flashlight. Weapon mounted lights have very special uses and an officer that has a weapon mounted light, even on a pistol, should also have a personally carried light as well. Pointing a "loaded flashlight" at an old lady with chest pain just isn't cool. So let's discuss personally carried lights and leave the vehicle and weapon mounted lights for another time.

It used to be one size fits most, when it came to flashlights. Today, if you have the budget and the arm strength, you can buy a high intensity discharge (HID) handheld light that puts out 5000 lumens for over 110 minutes; you can also buy a light you put on your keychain with a pushbutton LED that will last about 1000 hours and provide enough light to read your favorite novel. A 5000 lumen light would be great for search and rescue and a pushbutton LED would be great for a sniper that was referring to windage charts in low light. Somewhere between the aircraft landing light and the reading light there is a light suitable to your task.

For police work a light must be dependable, it doesn't matter how bright it is supposed to be if it doesn't work. A good light for patrol should run for at least 90 minutes on its highest setting before needing fed new batteries. Rechargeable batteries are always a good upgrade, when your light can accept them. If you go the rechargeable route make sure you invest in the best rechargeable batteries you can buy; your life may depend on them.

Brightness is also an important factor. If you are new to LED light technology, figure 80 lumens is brighter than older flashlights with 4 D Cell batteries. How bright is too bright? Well, if you are in low light or darkness, are you looking for bad guys? There are lights out now that are 400 to 500 lumens, that's bright! However; with that much light, you could easily toast your low light vision and the bad guys for that matter and you are probably going to have enough backwash (light reflecting off everything in the room) to light up yourself as well.

I'm not against lights that are that bright; but, sometimes too much isn't just right. Also consider as the lumens go up, the runs times go down and the light requires more batteries to feed its hunger for power. For me, 80 to 200 lumens is the neighborhood I look for in a good patrol light. 80 to 200 lumens is brighter than anything we have ever had access to, it is plenty of light to light up even the biggest of rooms we search and it is not so much light that we blind ourselves or silhouette ourselves in the process.

Along with the brightness comes adjustability. Having an LED light set to its highest setting isn't required all the time. When you just need a "little" light for a task, having the ability to turn the light down is a must. Lower settings help conserve your low light vision and it saves on battery life as well. Most LED lights have several settings to adjust the light. The more the better; but be sure the light you consider has immediate access to the brightest setting so it can be accessed if a threat suddenly pops up. You don't want to be fumbling with a light switch if you're trying to acquire a bad guy.

A strobe function is also a good addition to a patrol light. If you are not familiar with "strobing," it is a feature on today's newest lights. Flashing a strobe light into the eyes of a subject in low light has been shown to disorient them, sometimes to the point of making them physically sick. For the user, being behind the light, the same untoward effects are not felt. The strobe can be a dramatic, intimidating tactic in low light. Like the adjustability; if your new light is going to have a strobe feature, it needs to be immediately accessible in a crisis situation.

The ability to carry the light also must be considered. For years, flashlights have been a round tube with the light at one end, the batteries stacked behind the light head and a switch on the tube or on the tail cap. New developments have changed the way we carry our lights, as well. There are lights you can clip on your shirt pocket or lapel, there are even lights you can wear on your head.

One company has designed a flashlight that is worn on the hand so both of your hands are free while using the light. To me this is an interesting concept. Think about this for a minute; if you are on a traffic stop in low light, do you have your light out? What are you going to do with that light if you need to demonstrate field sobriety tests? Write a ticket? Handcuff the subject? You are going to do what we all do, stick the light in your mouth (if it's small enough), stick it in your belt or stick it under your arm. What about shooting at night? We all have our favorite flashlight technique for shooting a night; but, if the gun malfunctions or we need to reload, the light goes right into our mouths or under our arm.

Having a light on your hand and not in your hand is the biggest advance in flashlight technology I have seen to date. With this latest addition to the law enforcement field; a good patrol light should have the ability to be used and keep both hands free for other tasks as well.

You are now armed with the information you need to go forth and find a new light suited for police work. To summarize; the light should: run for at least 90 minutes on new batteries without a recharge, be 80 to 200 lumens in strength, be adjustable from full power to low power with instant access to the highest setting; have a strobe function with instant access and have the ability to keep both of your hands free while the light is in use. This a pretty tall order for a good patrol light. They are out there, just spend some time to find the light that is right for you; your life could depend on it.
About the Author
Rick London has been a police officer for sixteen years and is co-owner of www.tacticalleds.com. Rick has written numerous articles regarding LED flashlight technology and the application of LEDs to tactical LED flashlights used in law enforcement and public service.
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