Third Degree: Thermal Night Vision - Investigation -

Third Degree: Thermal Night Vision

FLIR’s H-Series handheld works in total darkness



Chris Boyd | From the December 2009 Issue Tuesday, December 15, 2009

When law enforcement hears FLIR, they generally recognize it as a Forward-Looking Infra-Red device mounted on a helicopter. Whether used for search-and-rescue missions, routine patrols, searching for suspects or attempting to locate/confirm the existence of indoor marijuana grows, FLIR is used daily in hundreds of jurisdictions throughout the U.S. for law enforcement. FLIR technology is also used throughout the world by military aviators and special operations units.

FLIR Systems has taken the same technology deployed in an airborne package and successfully scaled it down to a device that fits in the hand: a handheld tactical thermal imaging night vision camera. Unlike other types of night vision devices, thermal imaging works in total darkness, as well as in smoky, foggy and dusty environments. Additionally, it allows the user to “see through” camouflage and foliage in any lighting conditions.

The H-Series handheld thermal imager is available in two models: Patrol and Command models. The Command Model allows the officer to see in low-visibility conditions (e.g., darkness, fog, camouflage), and it allows the officer to take still photos or video, as well as transmit images via wireless radio frequency. Law Officer obtained the first Command Model available for testing and evaluation.

Although this technology is state of the art, it’s intuitive and user-friendly. In fact, I intentionally didn’t read the owner’s manual until I had operated the unit a few times, just to verify its potential ease of use. (My wife would argue the real reason I didn’t is because I’m a guy.)

The controls are ergonomically designed, and the device is exceptionally rugged. Weighing a mere 1.45 lbs., the device doesn’t fatigue the user. The unit operates on four standard NiMH, lithium-ion or alkaline AA batteries. This versatility allows for the greatest range of commercially available, over-the-counter batteries. It also ensures that if the rechargeable batteries (which provide up to six days—yes, days, not hours—of stand-by mode) run out, spare batteries can be used to extend run time.

I deployed the H-Series in a variety of lighting and environmental conditions. I was able to view rabbits foraging on my neighbor’s lawn from a distance of 150 feet, with little or no ambient light. During a moderate nighttime fog, I was able to observe the occupants of a vehicle exit and walk to their front door. My kids enjoyed walking across the grass and then viewing their heat signature footprints through the H-Series. I was also able to detect handprints on a variety of objects and recover items that could resemble discarded evidence (e.g., a knife, set of keys, an old pellet gun) hidden in bushes in my backyard. I asked one of our fire department’s division chiefs, who’s also a 35-year active duty and reserve in the Army Special Forces, for his evaluation of the H-Series. Chief Chris Heiser stated that the unit represents an outstanding value for the price point. He named several examples that would make this a viable tool in the fire department.

After several days of playing with the device, I called the manufacturer and spoke with Jeff Frank, who was involved in product development of the H-Series. Frank confirmed that extensive law enforcement input had been solicited during the research and development of this unit.

Portability, ease of use and a competitive purchase point make the handheld FLIR an outstanding tool that has the potential to greatly enhance officer safety. Preventing one serious officer injury (or worse) or aiding in the arrest of one violent felon would justify the investment in this device. The reality is, with a minimum of care and maintenance, this tool should provide years of reliable service and may in fact pay for itself several times over.


H-Series Thermal Night Vision


• Rugged, shock-resistance and submersible

• Lightweight and ergonomic, handheld portable device

• Affordable

• Uses rechargeable NiMH, or li-ion/alkaline batteries


• None



FLIR Systems



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Chris BoydChris Boyd is a 21- year veteran of the Carlsbad (Calif.) Police Dept. He has worked patrol, K-9 and vice/narcotics. Boyd is a certified Taser, MP5, NFDD and firearms instructor, and is currently assigned as a patrol sergeant. He’s also an entry-team leader on his department’s SWAT team.


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