The majority of time I spent on patrol was on the night shift. Before I had school-age children, I liked the freedom of being a night owl and sleeping in the next morning. My wife was the same way, so working 4:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. fit our lives perfectly. In the winter, it was dark the majority of the shift and in the summer just the opposite.
Flashlights, what are now commonly called "white lights," were the size of a tail pipe and just as likely to be used as an impact weapon as a lighting device. I used my light in this fashion on several occasions and can honestly say that a large metal tube impacting the center of a suspect's forehead was quite effective! Note: This was before Graham v. Garner. The use of force wasn't yet determined to be a seizure, so it was more of a "no blood, no paper" period of law enforcement history. Today, the use of a flashlight as an impact weapon is a no-go and carrying a large flashlight is quite uncommon. I have a light the size of a lip stick tube that offers more white-light power than the one I once carried that was powered by five D-cell batteries. Light technology has advanced to the point where flashing a light in someone's eyes can be disabling by itself—no need to hit! Good stuff.
The next move was to mount lights on long guns, something that had been somewhat crude for many years. As far back as the late 1970s, law enforcement and military units were mounting full-size flashlights on shotguns and sub-machine guns with tape and pipe strapping, which was a big improvement over trying to hold a flashlight and shoot a long gun. When Surefire introduced their weapon lights that were molded into the fore-grip of the Remington 870 and the Heckler and Koch MP-5, agencies and individuals couldn't buy them fast enough. Today it's a rare thing to see a combative-grade long gun without a white light attached to the fore-end. Again: Good stuff.
In the late 1990s, I commanded a multi-jurisdictional narcotics task force that conducted its own raids, something we were doing several times a week at one point. Heckler and Koch had introduced their USP Compact pistol, which was capable of attaching a white light to the frame without permanently doing so. This allowed investigators to carry the gun "slick" while concealed, but mount the white light when "going tactical" for a forced entry.
I purchased the gun and light with seized asset funds. It was greeted with muted enthusiasm. Some of the task force officers chose to carry the gun they had previously. Those that did carry the HK liked the quick on- and off-light capability. Admittedly, one of my concerns with the new weapon system was the officers using the gun/light combination as a lighting device and not a weapon. Though I never did see any of the team use the gun in this fashion when people were involved, I did see a few of them looking through drawers and closets for evidence with the gun as a light.
Not good stuff.
The pistol-mounted light these days is common not just for tactical teams but on patrol as well. I admit to being concerned originally about how these lights/weapons would be used. Talking with trainers and commanders across the country, it appears my concerns were unfounded: Officers understand the proper use of the weapon-mounted light. It seems law enforcement trainers are doing a good job of explaining the weapon-mounted light is a supplement to the handheld light and not a replacement!
The handheld light can be pointed in directions the weapon-mounted light should not. But when a serious threat arises, the weapon-mounted light allows both hands to be placed on the handgun for greater accuracy, enhanced incapacitation potential and reduced liability. It seems the weapon-mounted light is as common as handcuffs and is being used in a tactically sound fashion. More good stuff.
The pistol weapon light is better than ever before, offering greater power, reduced size and weight, as well as enhanced ergonomics. Some of these lights also come with laser sighting devices, which some will like and some won't. That choice is up to you.
One of my favorite lights is the Surefire X300, which has gone through several "renovations" over the years. The current version is powerful and versatile and features a high-performance LED that generates 500 lumens of white light focused by a "total internal reflection" lens. It produces a tight beam with long reach and significant surround light for peripheral vision. The LED (light-emitting diode) is far superior in toughness to the traditional light bulb and is now standard on all tactical-grade lights. The super-tough aerospace aluminum body is hard anodized and is O-ring and gasket sealed to make it weatherproof. The X300 Ultra can be attached to a pistol or a long gun since its "rail-lock" system permits rapid attachment to either universal or picatinny rails. Its integral ambidextrous push/toggle switch provides one-finger operation for either momentary or constant on/off operation.
If you prefer a light/laser combination, the Insight Technology WL1-AA is hard to beat. The WL1-AA is the first tactical weapon light to offer powerful performance on readily available AA batteries. The new "quick-release rail-grabber" mount provides fast and solid attachment while keeping a low profile. I've been using this light for well over a year and have found it to be compact, rugged and dependable.
Insight Technology engineers took the same approach in the development of the WL1-AA as they did in designing aiming and illumination devices for the U.S. military and Special Operations Forces, combining decades of experience with the requests of high-risk military and law enforcement professionals. These operators asked for high light output from commonly available and inexpensive AA batteries that can be found in many locations in the field. The WL1-AA uses two AA batteries to produce 150 or more lumens for up to 90 minutes from the durable LED. Officers and agencies using their lights on multiple weapons have noticed inconsistencies in rail sizes caused fit problems. The all new "quick-release rail-grabber" mount allows for a rock solid fit on rails that meet MIL-STD-1913, as well as most that don't.
A new player on the weapon light scene is INFORCE and they are doing some great things, especially in the area of ergonomics. The INFORCE LED auto pistol light (APL) produces 200 lumens of white light with a tight beam for close to mid-range applications and balanced peripheral light for scanning of the surrounding area. The bilateral and ambidextrous paddle switching system allows left or right hand activation and natural finger/thumb movement from the weapon grip frame to the switch. The INFORCE APL is light and durable inside and out. Its integrated mounting system is compact, convenient and securely attaches without tools to most any common pistol rail system. I really like how the support-side thumb—whether right or left hand—easily engages the paddle switch on the INFORCE light. I shoot with a thumb forward grip (as do many pistol shooters these days) and this thumb hovers just above the paddle, making activation as easy as lowering the thumb.
All of the lights mentioned here were obtained from Brownell's, so I owe them big thanks. Larry Weeks at Brownell's always comes through and when trying to write a column that informs street cops, this level of cooperation is really appreciated. They have the best stuff and offer great service, so visit them at www.Brownells.com.
When selecting a white light, think more than just the number of lumens involved. Think about how the hand interacts with the light, and how easily the light goes on and off the gun and about the beam itself. Often the beam will have a very bright center and that's where the lumen level will be measured. I prefer a beam that is wider, so I get the greatest field of view to look for additional threats. The lights listed here are just a small sampling of what is available, so give critical thought to your selection and choose wisely based on your real world of work.