Flashlight Tactics

(Ed. note – This is the first in a multi-part series on flashlight tactics. Make sure you read Part II and Part III)

There have been tremendous advances in flashlight technology over that last decade, and law enforcement has greatly benefited from the many new features that can be found on relatively inexpensive flashlights. Along with those advances have come new techniques for using an old familiar friend.

Manufacturers like Streamlight, Surefire, Blackhawk, Maglite, Insight, and others have started making smaller, lighter flashlights with incredibly higher light output. These new lights are much smaller, usually only 4-5 inches long and about 1-inch in and no bigger than the average person’s palm. Instead of heavy D-cell batteries, cops went to AA and the new CR123 batteries. And the newer lights introduced a thumb-activated on/off switch on the tail cap.

flashlightsAdvancements in bulb technology has led in the direction of LED or similar bulbs that create even higher light output, with the benefit of longer lasting run time. With the LED advancement, flashlights have added different light settings including high output, low output, and even strobe and dimming functions on some lights.

In this article I hope to explore some of the benefits of the smaller “tactical” flashlights, and combine that with some low-light techniques that every patrol officer should be familiar with to succeed in the dark.


There are times when having your flashlight on continuously is a benefit to the officer. Here are a few examples:

  • Interviewing subjects on stops or calls . It allows officers to keep a clear view of the subjects hands and movements, while offering a distraction (by shining the light in the subject’s eyes) should the person become less cooperative.
  • Writing citations or notes in the field.
  • Searching for evidence or missing persons.
  • Directing traffic at crash scenes.

flashlight tacticsAnother great time to keep light on full-time is once a suspect has been located during a search. At that point, we need to use the light to its fullest ability to hamper our suspect’s ability to see us or adjust to the rapid changes from dark to light. Plus we want to see every movement that our suspect makes to identify signs of fight or flight.

Full-time light in this situation can have a paralyzing effect on people who are surrounded by darkness. Humans rely heavily on eyesight for external stimulus and information, so taking away a suspect’s eyes with full light is a very beneficial thing. Full-time light also provides us with our best sight picture in the event of a deadly force or other applied force situation.

When using light full-time officers should be keenly aware of using the light to its greatest advantage. What I mean is that the light should be used to blind the suspect or illuminate the suspect’s hands. Hands kill us so we have to know what they are doing or holding. Once we have established that the hands are empty than the officer should use the light to eliminate the suspect’s ability to see, and therefore eliminate their ability to develop an organized plan of attack, resistance, or escape.

streamlight flashlightSome officers have advocated turning all lights on during an interior check, and although there are some benefits to this method, there are also times where it leaves us at a disadvantage. For instance, if you turn a light on in a living room you are completely illuminated, but a suspect in the darkened adjacent kitchen or hallway may not be visible. In addition, officers have to cross completely lit territory in order to continue clearing the areas of uncertainty.

A good home defense technique is to leave a hallway light on so if an intruder enters your darkened room you have the complete advantage, being hidden, while they are completely backlit. The same thing applies to officers and can be used against us.

Officers that train and practice operating in the dark, can actually become quite comfortable being in the dark or semi-lit conditions. In these training scenarios, the darkness becomes our friend, and we are able to use it for our advantage.


Another way of using full-time light to our advantage is the method of “painting” the light. Instead of simply pointing the light in one general direction, think about painting a wall. There is a lot of up/down and side to side movement, and probably some diagonal movement too so that the whole wall is covered and there are no obvious signs of brush strokes. This same movement can be used in the full-time lighting method to confuse suspects.

Try keeping your flashlight on and then moving your flashlight in rapid and different directions. Nothing extreme, in fact shorter and more controlled movements are better, but changing the patterns continuously. This gives a great amount of light for the officer to examine their surroundings but is very confusing to the suspect because it does not allow them the ability to determine how far away you are with your light. In some situations it will even confuse the suspect from knowing where the light is coming from, because light will be hitting all the walls, ceiling and angles, creating confusing shadows and light patterns.

streamlight strion flashlightTry this with your fellow officers. Have them hide in a darkened room or down a hallway. Use the method as described above and ask them how well they could determine where you were. They might have a general sense of where you are coming from but not an exact distance. This is great in a hallway where a suspect may be hiding around the corner.

Using this method and being quiet may allow you to move in the hallway without the give-away signs of how close you are getting that happens by leaving your light on and pointed in one position down the hall. Noise discipline is important here too, because the more stimulus you give out the easier it is for the suspect to start triangulating position.

The author is a sergeant with a midwestern police department, where he serves as a trainer, supervisor and SWAT sniper. In addition to his broad tactical knowledge, Aaron has experience in DUI, DRE and undercover narcotics investigations.

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Publisher at BlueSheepdog
Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing on sites like Human Events, The Firearm Blog and Police & Security News.

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