Low-Light Tactics and Options, by Officer Tackleberry

Tuesday, Mar 15, 2011

I have had some people ask how I as a police officer can defend the concealed carry rights for citizens and private gun ownership as a whole along with personally teaching firearms and self-defense to citizens.  To me the answer is an easy one.  I believe all of us have the God-given right to defend ourselves and our loved ones and firearms are a very good option in doing so.  I also believe that if there would have been citizens/students at the tragedy at Virginia Tech and other venues who were armed, trained and willing, then the death/injury tolls wouldn’t have been nearly as high.   Also at this time, police response times have increased significantly.  According to my latest research, the average response times in the US have increased from 8 minutes to 11.5 minutes.  That is a long time to wait for police if you have a desperate need.   I know that there are some that would argue against this statistic.  However, response times at my department have increased from just less than 5 minutes to 8 minutes, so I tend to believe it. Criminals like to strike when they have an advantage and they seem to do it a lot at night or in low-light settings, which is the premise for this article.  

Types of Lights

There are two main types of lights that I use personally, the LED and the incandescent.   The LED is the latest rage and justifiably so.  The LED has real good intensity for a compact size and can be found in 90-120 lumens for less than $100.  I have also used my LED to pierce smoke when looking for victims in an apartment fire.   While I do use my LED light a majority of the time, I also carry a small incandescent light on my belt as well.  I do this because the intensity level is not as high as the LED so the light tends not reflect a lot of glare back towards my eyes when I use it.  I found this to be especially true when I was tracking suspects through the woods at night.  When using the LED, any adjustment that my eyes had made to the dark woods was gone.  But when I used the incandescent, I was still able to keep most of my night vision.  

Operating the Light

In this article I am focusing on hand-held lights, not weapon-mounted lights, and there predominantly two ways to operate the light: the side activation switch and the tail-cap switch.  In fact, the tail-cap activated light is becoming more and more popular.   The tail-cap activated switch is easy to use; you just need to determine if the light is easier to cycle on/off when the light is in the off position, the on position or if the tail switch is only momentary on/off switch.  The reason I say this is that I have found its best to cycle the light on and off while searching and I will explain this more later in the article.   The side activation light takes a little more practice but can be easily mastered.  In fact, the hand-held light I use the most is side-switch activated.  Under the stress of an actual event, if you use your fingertips, you will probably push the button down hard enough to keep it on continuously.  This lets the bad guy know where you are and that you’re coming.  What I have found is to use was the middle pad of the index or middle finger on the switch so all I have to do is to lightly flex/squeeze the hand the light was in to momentarily activate the light.  Even using this technique under the stress of force-on-force, I rarely pressed switch hard enough to keep the light on continuously.  

Techniques for Holding the Light

There are several techniques taught and used: Harries, FBI, modified FBI, neck index, Rogers and Surefire are some of the most common with some having more advantages than others.   I have used all of the above techniques and the one that I found works the best and most consistently for me in the modified FBI flashlight technique.  To perform this technique, you hold the light up, away and slightly to the front of your body.  While you cycle the light on and off, you also move it side to side and up and down.  What this does is allow you to use the light in an intermittent manner that the bad guy cannot easily adjust to and makes it harder for him to determine where you are.   I also like this technique for when I am peeking around the corner as my flashlight is above me and I am lock my pistol arm out into a solid, one-hand shooting position that is very stable. Another advantage of this technique is that the light is away from you and your eye level should accidentally shine your light on a very bright surface or a white wall, which can momentarily blind you with what is known as “flash bulb” effect.  With this technique I cannot only easily flash the light off of the ceiling or floor and I am less likely to flash my light off of the bright-colored corner that I am using for cover.   A third advantage of this technique has to do with personal safety.  It has been proven that if the bad guy has nothing other than your light to target, then that is what he’s going to shoot at.  This was debated within my department so I sent out request via a law enforcement email tree that I am a part of.  I immediately started receiving case after case where this had happened, sometimes with dire consequences for the officers involved.  Also, one of my instructors at a local college where I attend spoke of a partner he had when he worked the street.  His partner still carried the small metal light that had an indentation on it from a .22 caliber bullet that was shot at him by a bad guy who could only see his light so he assumed the officer was directly behind it and he shot at it.  Fortunately, the officer wasn’t.  

Caution for Weapon-Mounted Lights
The latest craze for combat/LE lighting is the weapon mounted lights.  I won’t go into long-guns since that is outside the purview of this article.  However, I will address hand guns.   When using a hand gun mounted light, you must practice, practice, and practice!  The reason I say this because many of the hand gun weapon lights take quite a bit of practice to use without hitting your trigger unintentionally.   There have been at least two incidents that I know of in the US where a police officer thought he was manipulating his weapon light under stress but it was actually his trigger.  These officers unintentionally shot another person.  The same thing nearly happened to one of my co-workers, but fortunately he realized he was hitting the trigger instead of his light switch.   Fortunately, some of the newer hand gun mounted lights come with remote, pressure-operated switches which will hopefully keep such a tragic thing from happening in the future.   Another consideration is if your particular handgun will function properly and repeatedly with your chosen ammunition while a light is mounted on it.  There have been many cases of hand guns having stovepipe and double-feed malfunctions because the weapon light causes the gun to be too rigid.  This is especially true of one of my favorite handguns, the .40 caliber Glock 22, Generation 2.  Fortunately, Glock seems to have rectified this problem with the generation 4 Glock 22s.  

Force-on-Force: The Crucible of Reality
Fortunately, I have the opportunity to use the intermittent flashlight technique in force-on-force training with outstanding results.  I have had role-players shoot at my light and/or where my light last flashed and they told me afterwards that they had no other option because they could not tell where I was.   Also, in another scenario, one of the naysayers in my department was the bad guy role player.  During this scenario, the role-player was to jump out and attack the officer once she knew the officer was close.  There are three of us that use the flashlight intermittently in the way I described earlier.  The role-player stated that she had to jump out early on the each of us that used this technique for 2 reasons:  The intermittent strobing effect was making her sick and she had no clue where we were or how close we were.   In real life situations, I have used this technique to clear buildings several times.  The first time I used it with one particular officer, he complained to me afterwards that it physically made him sick.  My comment to him was that if it did that to him then what does he think it would do to a bad guy!   

In another situation, I was with another officer who was trained in this technique and we had to deal with a mentally ill person who was armed with a knife and was threatening to kill himself.  Pepper spray was not initially affecting him and we don’t have Tasers, so we used our flashlight techniques to keep him off-balance and away from us as he was now swinging the knife at us.  The pepper spray eventually took effect and we were able to subdue him without injury to him or us.  So, good flashlight techniques can be used in other ways as well.  

Manufacturers
There are several good light manufacturers out there such as Streamlight, Surefire, UTG and Dorcy.  I like them all.   However, if you’re looking for light that will be your TEOTWAWKI light, then lean towards a light that can use regular batteries such as AA and AAA.  The reason I say this is that you will have need of these kind of batteries anyway so for redundancy, you should already have or are going to have, several of the batteries in rechargeable format with 1 or 2 rechargers anyway.   Many rechargeable flashlights have batteries that can only be used in their respective lights.  Also their charging stations are fairly flimsy as I have broken a couple of them through daily use in my cruiser and at home.  

Final Thoughts
I encourage each of you to experiment and train with the various flashlight techniques and find what works for you.  I am not saying that what I presented here is “the way” to use a flashlight, but only “a way” that I found works for me.   There are some good training videos out there and you can also find some good stuff on youtube.  Just remember that on youtube there is sometimes just as much bad stuff as there is good stuff.  Also, nothing can replace quality hands-on training from a reputable trainer.   There is a book that I would like to recommend to anyone who is a CCW permit holder, police officer, military, or who possess a handgun for self-defense.  It is The Modern Day Gunslinger, by Don Mann.It is the best book I have ever read in regards to handgun use and it has a chapter on flashlight use as well.   I will leave you with one my favorite quotes from page 369 of Don Mann's book: “Self-defense handgun encounters aren’t typically complicated, but they are unforgiving of arrogance, recklessness, ignorance, carelessness, or neglect.”   Be safe, train hard and I pray for God’s Blessing on you all! - Officer Tackleberry


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