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Departments : The Winning Edge

Gaining the Advantage in Low-Light Environments

There is more to operating in the darkness than knowing how to hold a flashlight.

July 01, 2008  |  by Ed Santos

You should spend time training under similar conditions as those mentioned above. Get together with teammates and create scenarios that require visual patience. These scenarios can be practiced during live fire or conducted during briefings using airsoft or guns. The key is to make the scenarios fun and challenging in a way that you must use visual patience in order to be successful.

If conducted at the shift level, these exercises will have the additional benefits of developing teamwork, building confidence in your partners, and providing supervisors with a benchmark of the participants' collective skill levels.

Light as a Force Option

Imagine that you can disorient your suspect for five to seven seconds using only your flashlight from a distance. Would you do it? I bet you would.

You can tremendously improve your ability to win at night by placing the hot spot of your light in the suspect's eyes. By doing this, you reduce his or her ability to see you clearly and mount any type of attack as you approach.

Temporarily blinded, the suspect cannot assess your physical conditioning or your size, determine if you are alone, or look for an escape route or cover. Would you find any advantage to putting your suspect in a situation that would require 90 seconds for him to regain a diminished ability to see? Would you consider this to be a tactical advantage for yourself? Sure you would. Try it, you will like the results.

If you have a quality light source and you know how to use it, you can gain the advantages as stated above every time you confront a suspect in a diminished light environment. I can't stress enough that in order to see these results you must have training, quality equipment, and the confidence to apply the techniques.

If you are to have a reasonable expectation of disorienting a suspect, you must be confident that the light flashed in his eyes is free of any imperfections. Make sure the light you select and use will project a clean beam/pattern free of any dark spots. I also suggest that you choose a light with a minimum of 80 lumens.

Typically we utilize tactics, training, and troops to overcome many of the situations that face us. Look at the effective deployment of a quality light as another tool to help you win.

You will often be in a diminished light environment when you are confronted with a lethal encounter. The very fact that you are in less than desirable lighting conditions means that you more than likely will use some type of artificial light. But, as stated earlier, most of you only use the light in a traditional sense. In other words, to navigate, investigate, or communicate.

There you are in a low-light environment with the flashlight in your hand and you need to take some defensive or offensive action as a result of the suspect's actions. Does it not stand to reason that if you can gain the advantage (either defensive or offensive) by deploying the tool you already have in your hand, you should do it?

The advantages of such actions are many and go way beyond reaction time. When you consider the reduction in motor skill performance, the time wasted as you decide what tool to deploy, and discarding the light that is already in your hand, the advantages are apparent. You will extend both your reaction time and your movement time if you choose to deploy a tool other than what you already have in your hand.

Don't misunderstand me; I am all about getting rid of anything that will not benefit you during those critical situations. This is the cornerstone of my article. At a minimum, the coordinated, efficient deployment of a quality flashlight is a tremendous equalizer.

The single most important thing you can do to improve your survivability on the job is to improve your understanding of operating in the low-light environment. Never before have we had the tools, access to the knowledge, and clinical research available to truly "rule the night."


Author and trainer Ed Santos has been teaching firearms and tactics for more than 25 years and has studied low-light operations for more than 20 years. He is a retired Army officer and is a reserve deputy in north Idaho. He will be presenting a class on low-light tactics at TREXPO East.

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