Low Light Threat Management - Tactics and Weapons - LawOfficer.com

Low Light Threat Management

Flashlight-assisted shooting techniques for your tactical toolbox



Mike Boyle | From the January 2009 Issue Friday, January 2, 2009

Over the years, law enforcement officers have been instructed in various flashlight-assisted shooting techniques. This is all well and good when you consider that most shootings occur under less than optimum lighting conditions. In darkness, a light source gives the officer the ability to navigate, locate and assess potential threats and, if necessary, deliver accurate fire. Although proficiency in flashlight-assisted shooting technique is certainly a plus, it only represents a part of a much bigger picture.

Probing and searching the dark for suspicious activity, conducting credential checks and motor vehicle stops remain fairly common tasks. On occasion, law enforcement officers may even manage threats with flashlight and gun incidental to arrest. In the grand scheme of things, shooting is the least likely scenario.

For any number of reasons, commonly-taught flashlight-assisted shooting techniques don't lend themselves to searching or threat management. Many firearms training institutions use some variation of the General Safety Rules first developed by Colonel Jeff Cooper. Although the language used varies, the rules and their meaning do not. In unadulterated form, Rule #2 reminds us to "Never let your muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy." Officers who have only been instructed in flashlight-assisted shooting techniques will inevitably default to them while searching. Since the gun and light are now locked up in a single unit, the muzzle will likely be pointed at subjects who do not pose a threat.

At best, muzzle searching can be the cause of citizen complaints, despite the officer's best intentions. In a highly charged, stressful situation, muzzle searching, combined with an unintentional discharge, may have tragic consequences. Having a technique in your tactical toolbox that allows an officer to search without committing the muzzle is the way to go.

Stress Factors
Handheld flashlights are typically equipped with either a side button or tailcap switch. The larger, full-size flashlights from MagLite and Streamlight feature a side button switch and are most often activated by the thumb or index finger. On the other hand, the small tactical lights from BlackHawk, Insight Tech Gear, PentagonLight, SureFire and others are equipped with a tailcap switch requiring thumb activation. Depending on the manufacturer, thumb activation may require a light touch or a fairly hard press. Gun-mounted lights are now part of the law enforcement scene, even for patrol officers. Activation of these lights can be via a remote pressure switch or a rocker switch on the light itself.

In recent years, we've come to better understand interlimb interaction, particularly how it relates to an unintentional or negligent discharge of a firearm. Is it conceivable that one may attempt to merely activate the light and unintentionally fire the gun? In the perfect storm of stress and confusion, the answer, unfortunately, is yes.

Throughout my career, I've conducted countless force-on-force simulations, first with modified revolvers firing cotton balls and later, pistols with marking cartridges. These scenarios were often videotaped for later review by both instructors and participants. One casual observation I've noted is that, despite the participant's level of training or experience, their finger often drifted to the trigger as stress levels increased. Very often, participants recognized the error of their ways and removed their finger from contact with the trigger. On the other hand, some participants rode the trigger for extended periods of time and had absolutely no recollection of doing so after the scenario was over.

I would hardly categorize my observations as scientific fact, but other trainers have made similar conclusions. Life-threatening stress would, no doubt, have even a more detrimental effect. Factor in a finger on the trigger along with light and gun on the subject, and we end up with the potential for an unwanted outcome. Switch placement, manipulation and trigger action can further muddy waters.

Conditions of Readiness
Many firearms training programs put a disproportionate emphasis on marksmanship at the expense of operational skills. If an officer can qualify by achieving the minimum marksmanship standard, all is considered well. Other critical skills, such as drawing, reholstering, loading and clearing stoppages are often neglected. Instruction on working from the ready position or managing threats at gunpoint is often deficient as well. My concern isn't with progressive agencies that go the extra yard and cover all the bases, but rather those outfits that continue to cut corners. Those shortchanged officers often find a "way." Unfortunately, it's often the wrong way. This is especially true with low light skills.

Low light training should include different states of readiness, as well as light conditions officers will likely face in the field. Officers need to work with pistol and light both secured on belt, light only at the ready, gun only at the ready, and both gun and light pre-deployed.

Ultimately, one needs to develop a system that provides for a seamless transition from routine searching and probing all the way up through the application of deadly force. Safety for both officer, as well as subject, speed and economy of motion are paramount.

First, consider the preferred flashlight-assisted shooting technique. The Harries and Neck Index techniques are executed with the flashlight held in a bludgeon or overhand grip. On the other hand, the Chapman or Rogers techniques require a sword or underhand grip. In the event a situation escalates to the point of shooting, an improper grip will delay your response. The

preferred shooting technique will dictate how the flashlight is held during routine searching.

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Mike BoyleMike Boyle served as a captain with the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife Bureau of Law Enforcement and recently retired after 27 years of service. Mike remains active, teaching recruit, in-service and instructor level classes at the police academy. He’s also on the board of directors of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors.


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