How to Use a Strobing Flashlight

Strobes have become extremely popular on police flashlights, but this tool has its pluses and minuses.

Strobing tactical lights do not allow the photoreceptors to reset, which shocks an individual’s vision. Strobing bright light forces the brain’s perception input to arrive in segments, thus creating after images as the brain labors to fill in or complete the partial image created by the momentary exposure of the strobe. These after images compound with each strobe exposure, which increases perceptual disparity.

Police tacticians have long recognized the blinding caused by placing the hotspot of a high-intensity light in a subject’s eyes. Add the disorientation caused by the strobing of a quality bright light and the benefits are obvious. However, these benefits also come with some disadvantages and tactical concerns.

Tactical Concerns

When deployed without the benefits of an accompanying constant light (cover officer), a strobe light may make the user experience an inability to see or recognize subtle/deliberate slow movements made by the suspect.

In training classes I am routinely able to move my hands eight to 10 inches before my threatening motions are recognized by the student who is exposing me to the strobe. Of course, my movements must be very slow and deliberate in order to avoid detection by the student.

Also, exposure to any bright light in a dark environment after low-light adaptation has been achieved will in fact deteriorate a subject’s night vision. However, I have not been able to verify the claim that strobe exposure will diminish night vision adaptation to any greater degree. Much in the way that a brief exposure of a bright light in a person’s eyes from a flash into a mirror while clearing a bathroom will cause some discomfort and a momentary disoriented state, we do not lose our established night vision to any significant degree. In multiple tests with students on the live fire range, I have not seen any significant loss of target identification or engagement after the strobe exposure has been ended and the eyes are given just seconds to adapt.

As to the claim that strobe exposure causes a disruption to vision that affects the suspect’s ability to use force, I agree.

This is obvious to anyone who has ever applied the strobe exposure to another person. It is often stated that humans are 70 percent to 80 percent visual. This is true. And it is very difficult to formulate any type of plan, coordinate physical movement, or manifest any effective aggression without an intelligent assessment to build on. This is impossible to do while experiencing a strobe exposure.

During a lethal confrontation, lack of information/intelligence can be stress inducing in itself. Much in the same manner as stated above a strobe exposure will provide a visual and psychological hurdle to aggressive movement or behavior. It is the fear of the unknown in many cases. During a strobe exposure, a suspect is unable to identify the officer by size, number, physical presence, exact location, environmental conditions, and much more. Without many of these points of intelligence, the suspect is incapable of developing a plan with any expectation of success.

That strobe exposure decreases the suspect’s direct and peripheral vision is another claim we must look at realistically. Without question, direct and peripheral vision are decreased.

However, is there a significant increase in this vision deterioration as a result of the strobe exposure over just a constant bright light? If the suspect and the officer remain stationary, I say there is not a significant increase as a result of applying the strobe. Exposure to a quality bright constant light will significantly decrease the suspect’s direct and peripheral vision. In student testing, I have not seen any measurable difference between applying the strobe and a bright constant light.

While performing the above-mentioned tests, I did recognize a benefit of the strobe exposure to the officer when the officer moves toward the suspect. In many cases the officer is able to advance or close the gap to the suspect without detection. This same movement is not as successful without the strobe. Using the strobe, the officer is often able to move as much as 25 feet without detection.

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