It wasn't all that many years ago the term "duty flashlight" didn't exist. Sure, there were flashlights you'd use on duty, but you pretty much used one light for all things. As I recall, these lights were four "D" cell silver aluminum lights with a reflector as big as my hand and the light's switch was a slide for on/off and a small button to flash the light. Today we have multiple options, including lights that are barely four inches long and can light up your backyard.
So what makes a good duty light? It all depends on what you want to use it for. Obviously, you want it to illuminate an area or areas, but there are other considerations. Such as how you'll carry the light, how much illumination you require, and whether you prefer a tail cap or body-mounted switch.
Personally, I prefer my duty light to be easily carried on my duty belt. Next, I want it to provide adequate illumination up to 50 yards away. I also prefer the light to be long enough that it protrudes from both sides of my fist when I hold it so that, should the need arise, my light can act as a last-ditch impact weapon. Next, the light should be able to be used in conjunction with my sidearm in the Harries or Rogers technique.
I find myself at a crossroads when it comes to what is the best light for duty. Xenon bulbs put out a tight beam and mega amounts of lumens; but they eat batteries and the lamp assemblies are expensive when you need a new bulb. LEDs, on the other hand, are rapidly approaching the light output of xenon at 50 yards or so; the difference between the outputs is negligible. The big plus of the LED bulb is that it runs virtually forever, and drains batteries at a lower rate. An LED will also continue to provide light even when batteries are low, while xenon bulbs require much more battery power to function. That being said, xenon still provides the most focused, powerful beam.
Because preferences and requirements vary, this article covers a mix of xenon, LED, standard battery, and rechargeable lights. Most can be carried on your belt or in your pocket, while some may be best suited for carrying in your vehicle. Most of the lights I chose are lights that I currently use or have used on a regular basis on and off duty.
5.11 Tactical Light For Life
The newest player in the market is 5.11 Tactical with the Light for Life. This flashlight is a radical departure from your everyday light in that it has no batteries. I know, how can a light run without batteries? Ivus Energy Innovations developed Flashpoint Power Technology, a way to allow a capacitor to "bleed" off its energy and run a light. It operates through the use of computerized digital circuitry and ultra capacitors, allowing the light to go from no charge to full charge in about 90 seconds. No joke.
The Light for Life also gives the operator four methods of operation: standard (90 lumens), peak (270 lumens), strobe, and standby to conserve the capacitor's storage time until the light is needed. Because it can be recharged 500,000 cycles and has a bulb life of 50,000 hours, this could be the ideal light for your cruiser, station, or anywhere you want to ensure you have a light for daily or emergency use.
There are no batteries to recycle, and the unit should last a career. Hence there are fewer items in the landfill and no heavy metal batteries to dispose of—both big points in the modern green world.
BlackHawk Gladius Maximis
BlackHawk Products Group's Gladius Maximis offers good anti-roll capability. This is a light I have used since it came on the market a few years ago. A cross finger grip on the tail cap keeps the light from rolling and works well when holding the light for the Rogers technique.
But what makes the Gladius truly versatile is its end cap. Not only is it the on/off switch, but rotating the cap gives you a low beam, high beam, or a strobe light depending on how far you turn it. You can also lock out the switch so you don't accidentally turn it on.
The Gladius impressed a number of my shooting buds on local departments enough that they plunked down their hard earned bucks to buy them for duty. They all liked the idea of multiple light output options. Many of them work DUI checkpoints and the low light is excellent for checking IDs, while the high output setting lends itself to use for searches and the strobe helps when approaching a suspect.
Brite-Strike Blue Dot 198
Brite-Strike may be a fairly young flashlight company, but the founders are former cops. These guys took their knowledge from the time they spent on the street and built lights to fill the vacancies that they feel other manufacturers have.
Brite-Strike's lights are designed to give officers a multi-purpose light. They are sized small enough to fit in the palm of your hand or comfortably in a pants pocket, yet they are long enough to be a last resort impact weapon.
The Blue Dot 198 Series of lights offers a couple of versions of end caps: hi/lo/strobe, or momentary/hi output, both with an output of up to 198 lumens. This allows you to decide what will best serve your needs.
Several of my buds have been using the Blue Dot 198 and they like the feel of it and the way it looks. It is a solid light and has survived Pittsburgh's nasty winter and spring of '09. That says a lot for any light, since rain, snow, wind, and ice were the mainstays of this year's winter.
First-Light USA Liberator
First-Light USA developed and introduced an impressively innovative light for duty a few years ago: the Liberator. This light truly leaves your hands wide open to manipulate your weapon, work with your K-9, frisk or handcuff a suspect, or give you a true two-handed mount on your weapon.
The Liberator slides over your hand and is operated with the thumb of whichever hand you choose to use. Controls are positioned on top of the light, providing easy access to go from lo-beam to full intensity with a simple push of a button.
First-Light offers the Liberator in several configurations, including one with a strobe and one with a task light. All models offer a hi/lo output option. This light can also be operated from its belt holder, leaving your hands completely free when required. First-Light USA may be one of the industry's new kids, but the Liberator has won over major agencies such as the Border Patrol.
One light I have had my hands on for quite a while is the T-4 rechargeable light from Inova (Emissive Energy). The T-4 is a nine-inch O-ring-sealed aluminum multi-function light. I have used the T-4 for spotting deer, searching buildings, and as a general use flashlight.
This light is one of those you hold and it feels right. Its body is completely checkered, with the push button located near the light bezel. This allows you to operate the light with your pinky finger or thumb—both with ease. The ease of operation means the T-4 is a good light for use with your weapon if you use the Harries method.
The T-4's lithium-ion battery will run for up to two hours, and I have found the batteries to hold a charge for many weeks. Once the batteries are drained they will recharge in approximately a half-hour. At full power the T-4's light is visible for up to three-and-a-half miles with useful light out to 100-plus yards. Inova's T-4 is a light you can count on when the chips are down.
Insight Tech-gear H2X Arcturus
Another example of a rechargeable duty light is Insight Tech-Gear's H2X Arcturus. Its Dura-Last LEDs produce a maximum output of 150 lumens controlled by a multi-function tail cap that gives you constant, bright, strobe, or S.O.S. light modes.
Built tough, the Arcturus is waterproof to 15 feet and made with lightweight aerospace anodized aluminum. Runtime is approximately three hours on a full charge. Using the light in momentary mode, I have found the charge will last for a full 12-hour night shift. The Arcturus has also survived skidding across the parking lot when the light became dislodged from my light case.
The Arcturus is easy to use with a handgun, no matter which light technique you choose. I found the flat of the light mates up well with the grip of various handguns using the Rogers method. This flat gives you a nearly perfect two-handed grip—something fully round flashlights can't claim.
Leupold MX Series
A familiar name to law enforcement but new to the world of lights is Leupold. The company's modular MX Series allows you to build a light to fit your needs. Choose a two- or three-cell main tube, xenon or LED bulbs, multiple or single function bezel all with a constant on or momentary tail cap. I haven't found another light that can do that. All the parts are manufactured from T6061 aerospace-grade aluminum and the seals are waterproof to four atmospheres.
The light I built used the two-cell CR123A body and the tactical MX400 bezel. This gives you a dim light, bright, strobe, or blinking option all in a handheld unit. Leupold installs a heavy-duty clip and a lanyard so you can maintain possession of your light even when doing reloads or other activities that require two hands.
I have found the MX to be a well made and solid light. Guys who used it on duty found it to be easy to carry and easier to operate. Leupold's MX meets the demands of law enforcement, the outdoorsman, or anyone who needs a high-quality handheld clip-it light.
Maglite 3 D-Cell
Mag Instrument's Maglite dates back to my early days in law enforcement. I was issued my first 3 D-Cell Maglite at the tender age of 21 as an A1C in the U.S. Air Force Reserve as a security policeman. Back then this light was a huge improvement over the right-angle flashlight we were issued to hang off of our LBE and ALICE gear; yes, those terms predate today's MOLLE gear.
While a Maglite may seem old school to many, it is truly just as functional today as it was 20-plus years ago. All the cool high-tech handheld light sabers we call tac lights are not designed for work on traffic details. There is still a need for a light that has a long runtime and offers a decent output of light to identify people, yet won't blind yourself or others when doing close quarters inspections.
One thing all of the wonder lights can't do—at least not in my experience—is be used as a window persuader. While this may not be a prescribed use of a light, it's allowed me to successfully open a window or two to gain access into old vacant buildings to do searches.
Maglite has kept up with changing times too. The company led the way with brighter krypton and xenon bulbs, giving users light outputs from 36 to 233 lumens, depending on the cell number and size. I have been a fan of the 3 D-Cell version that puts out more than 120 lumens with a 10- to 11-hour runtime. Maglite now also offers LED versions of its line and even a rechargeable light.
Pelican Products 2360 100
I came across Pelican Products flashlights several years ago when I was looking at the company's hard cases. What caught my eye was that many of their lights run on standard AA batteries, and this was when the race was on to use quite expensive lithium batteries. I was far from rolling in the money at the time and every penny I could save was a bonus.
Pelican's lights have become trusted and combat proven, in use by many agencies here in the U.S. and by the troops in "The Sandbox." I have used various Pelican products over the past few years and I like them. When I heard that Pelican was introducing an affordable LED clip-it duty light that runs on AA batteries, I was more than ready to see one.
I haven't gotten my hands on a sample; but trust me, I will. From what I saw of the light at the SHOT Show in January, it is a fine light. Not only does it put out 100 lumens, but it retails for less than $50. Especially because the 2360 operates on affordable and accessible AA batteries, this light is a steal by today's standards, where duty lights generally start at $100. From my past experience with Pelican, I'd carry this light from day one; that's my faith in the product line.
Another relatively new light manufacturer is PentagonLight. Its Porcupine is one of many innovative designs to fit your duty and off-duty needs.
This handheld tactical-style light runs on two CR-123A and puts out 70 lumens. It's made from military-grade aluminum with the light and battery compartments O-ring sealed so you can safely operate it in the wettest of conditions.
What sets this light apart from the crowd and gives it its name is a retractable lamp bezel. The bezel has several sharp serrations which are quickly and easily exposed, and just as quickly retracted, allowing you to use the Porcupine as an impact weapon. While it may sound mean, this light will mark the person you use it on, making identification of the perpetrator easier.
PentagonLight's Porcupine has a clip that secures the light where you put it. It's also roll proof, thanks to its pentagon-shaped tail cap; it looks cool and it works, too. PentagonLight may be one of the new kids on the block, but it is a force to be reckoned with.
Streamlight NightFighter LED
For all around use, Streamlight's NightFighter LED is hard to beat. This multi-function light can be used with or without its finger grip ring and has both constant and momentary on settings.
I like the tail cap, which is recessed just enough to prevent you from accidentally hitting the light when you don't want to, but sticks out enough so you can use most any light technique of your choosing with it.
One feature that sets the NightFighter apart form others is its anti-roll head. The bezel has three large flats that keep the light from rolling off of a vehicle hood, or off any but the steepest angled flat surfaces. Not many lights can make this claim.
SureFire L7 Lumamax
When it comes to "traditional, old school" lights SureFire has been setting the pace for years. I've used many of the company's CR-123A powered lights but am drawn to its rechargeable lights. The L7 Digital Lumamax is a fine all around light.
The L7 is manufactured from Mil-Spec Type III hard anodized aluminum with an LED bulb. The light runs on a B90 rechargeable battery. Two batteries and a charger are included in the kit. The LED lamp window is tempered Pyrex so it will survive the hottest of temperatures.
When using the L7, I found it runs for about two hours. SureFire claims two and a half hours. Of course, temperature and climate will affect the runtime. The battery will recharge to full power in approximately 20 minutes. Switching out the batteries gives you light for an entire shift and then some.
The L7 is a fine light. Mine has survived hunting, duty, hiking, and general everyday use, as well as kicking it down the driveway.
As you can see, duty lights are available in as many styles and sizes as there are officers on the streets. I hope this will help give you all a solid overview of the lights that are available. My one word of advice on duty lights: Always carry a backup. Batteries fail, as can the lights themselves. It's essential to be prepared considering Murphy's Law. Stay safe and watch your six.
Scott Smith is a former federal police officer for the Department of Veteran's Affairs and a contributing editor to POLICE.