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Kojak Lights

Portable police emergency lights for unmarked vehicles have come a long way since the days of our favorite lollipop-eating detective.

May 01, 2002  |  by William Bell


Police jargon is spiced with quotes from our favorite TV cop shows. Many of you instantly recognize "Book 'em, Dan-O," from "Hawaii Five-O;" "Just the facts, ma'am," from "Dragnet," and "Let's be careful out there," from "Hill Street Blues."

Cop lingo even includes equipment identified with certain characters or shows, such as "Kojak Lights." For those of you under 40, the "Kojak" light gets its name from the ubiquitous teardrop-shaped flashing red light made famous by Lt. Theo Kojak (Telly Savalas) of the NYPD Manhattan South detective squad. In just about every episode of "Kojak," he would slap the light onto the roof of his unmarked Buick Century and speed off to catch the bad guys.

In its prime during the mid-'70s the emergency warning light christened with the "Kojak" moniker was state-of-the-art and one of the few products available for use on "plain-clothes" vehicles.  In contrast, today's law enforcement officer or administrator can choose from a bewildering assortment of portable emergency lights for unmarked vehicles. The following is a roundup of some of the products available.

911E

One of the newer companies in the field, 911EP was founded in 1995 and made its name pioneering innovations in LED technologies. Since then, the company has become a recognized leader in solid-state emergency lighting solutions.

The 911EP answer to the portable police emergency light is the LS15 model with a cigarette lighter plug cord and suction cup mounting attachment. Incorporating new Level II LED components that utilize LumiLEDs, an advanced high flux, wide-angle LED contained in a modular design, 911EP's LS15 is one of the smallest and most powerful portable police vehicle lights.

Measuring only 12.3 inches long, 1.42 inches wide, and 1.27 inches high, the LS15 is the smallest light tested in this article. It uses four interchangeable LED modules, and optional color modules inserted in any configuration among the four sockets offer lighting for differing applications. Add to this the ability to interchange both the collimators and the clear lenses for differing effects, and you end up with an extremely versatile light.

After handling the unit, I was struck by its light weight and durability. The aluminum extrusion housing is rigidly constructed and the electrical cord is heavy-duty. A small toggle switch on the side controls both the on/off and flash pattern functions. Our sample LS-15 had nine different flash patterns including wig-wag, pulsar, and chaser.

Federal Signal Corp.

One of the oldest producers of emergency warning lights in the United States, Federal Signal Corp. has provided "signaling innovations" since 1901. The company's basic portable "dash light" is the FireBeam. This compact unit features a tough plastic housing, snap-on color filters, and a 55-watt halogen lamp with a polished rotator that produces 68,000-candle power.

The Model FB3SM that we tested offers two flash rates of 90 and 175 flashes per minute (FPM). It comes with a 10-foot power cord and cigarette lighter plug. A back flash dome cover prevents light shining into the operator's eyes if utilized in a dash application. Supplied with the light is a magnetic mount with a powerful "donut" magnet and a swivel bracket that can be attached to the dash or other surface with an adhesive pad or Velcro strips. An optional Ultra-Flash reflector shield can be attached to convert the Firebeam into a mini-light bar.

A new and innovative idea in portable police lighting is the "visor light," so named for obvious reasons. Federal Signal's top model is the Delta Ray LED. The model we tested, the DRLED-RB1, features 168 high-output LEDs packaged in a thin housing with on/off and flash pattern switches and a 10-foot cord with cigarette plug. It has a low amperage draw (1.3 amps at 12.8 volts), yet has four separate light quadrants that provide 12 different flash patterns with names like Sweep, Center Out, and Progressive Speed. Velcro straps enable attachment to the vehicle sun visor.

A more economical model is Federal Signal's SignalTech L.E.D., which combines solid-state, microchip-based technology with intense LED reflector cells. The Model SLVF-BB that we tested has double light areas that provide two "wig-wag" flash patterns. It is also switch operated with Velcro attachments. A single area LED light, the SignalTech L.E.D. SL offers light-eight compact size with LED reflector cell design and 85 FPM speed. It can be used as a visor light or has mounting brackets for other uses. Pushing in the cigarette plug activates the light and both SignalTech models have an 8-foot cord.

Whelen Engineering

Another long-time emergency light manufacturer is Whelen Engineering Co. Inc. Whelen pioneered strobe light technology in the 1970s and today offers halogen, strobe, and LED systems.

Whelen's visor-mounted light called the Flatlighter is available in strobe and heavy-duty LED versions. Our review sample was a Model FLLEDRB with dual LED lights that appear clear and have a clear lens, but flash red and blue, to produce 20 selectable flash patterns of extremely bright light. The housing is of strong, lightweight plastic and is equipped with on/off and flash pattern switches, plus an 8-foot cord with cigarette lighter plug and Velcro straps for firm visor attachment.

Whelen also sent us a SlimLighter LED unit with dual lights in red and blue (that once again appear clear) mounted in a housing that measures a scant 16.37 inches wide and 1.62 inches high. You also get 20 flash patterns with this light. The Slimlighter is adaptable for permanent attachment on the rear deck, headliner, or dash. The Model SLPLLRB that we reviewed has adjustable brackets and suction cups for mounting the light directly to the windshield. I found it best to mount the light to the lower portion of the windshield just above the dash, which provides unimpeded visibility.

Whelen's Dash-King series offers a number of single- or dual-level lights in LED and strobe. The lights are situated inside a molded polycarbonate hood, and the many attachment options allow the Dash-King to mount above the rearview mirror on the headliner or some models may be fitted with a suction cup adapter and affixed to the dashboard or rear deck. The scoop-type hood can be trimmed if necessary to make for an exacting fit to help eliminate flashback and obstruction to the driver's vision.

The LED-equipped models offer 20 different flash patterns, while the strobe versions offer two patterns. The dual lights are positioned one atop the other and self-adhesive reflectors can be added to the inside surfaces of the hood for enhanced warning effect.

Three samples were supplied to us by Whelen: a single light LED (DKPL) with "interleaving" red and blue LEDs that give the single light a dual flash effect; a dual light LED (DKPLL), and a dual strobe (DKPSS). One item to note on the strobe is that while the light is brilliant, it makes a clicking noise as it operates. All the sample lights came with an 8-foot cigarette lighter plug.

The last light sent by Whelen was a Dash-Miser, the self-contained dual-strobe Model DMP2S. This portable warning beacon is available with halogen or strobe lamps and in dual- or triple-light versions. The universal "Z-Bracket" mounting system allows attachment to almost any interior surface. My sample provides 130 FPM Comet-Flash pattern, and with this strobe there was no noticeable sound.

Standard equipment is the cigarette plug that pushes into the lighter socket to activate the light. An optional cord with remote switch is available along with a coiled cord plug. Mounting kits can be provided to allow magnetic or behind- the-mirror attachment, and you can even get a non-glare windshield hood.

Depending on if you require a small concealable portable light or a high output, front-and-center rig to alert traffic and pedestrians to your presence, there is a light for your needs in a variety of price ranges. All of the lights tested were well built of rugged materials and electrical components, to give years of trouble-free service. No matter which you chose, all of the portable emergency warning lights from 911EP, Federal Signal, and Whelen meet the standards of today's professional law enforcement officer.

William Bell is a 25-year veteran of law enforcement and is currently a port director for U.S. Customs in Indianapolis. The author's son, Jordan, assisted in the research for this article.

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