How to Use a Strobing Flashlight

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

Despite popular belief to the contrary, the strobing in itself is not a fear inducer. It is the disorientation and confusion caused by the strobe exposure that leads to fear in some people. In most cases when you can limit the suspect’s ability to gather and process intelligence you can increase the potential for fear. The strobe exposure certainly provides this limiting factor and can be particularly effective due to the accompanying disorientation experienced. 

Using Strobes on the Street

Before we discuss any strobe light application methods, let’s discuss what I believe to be one of
the biggest hurdles faced by my students as they attempt to learn strobe light techniques. The method of accessing the strobe feature continues to be an issue with many light designs. This issue deserves to be discussed in this forum as the switching method needs to be at the top of your list as you evaluate a light for purchase.

Each manufacturer has its own method of switching between strobe, constant/momentary on, and various intensity outputs. I have to say that I am not crazy about any particular switch design currently available. I also realize after working with one manufacturer for more than three years on this issue that there is no simple solution.

Ideally the operator should have the ability to switch from constant or momentary on to strobe without any fine motor skills necessary. The switching between light functions should be effortless, without gimmick, and certain even under stress when a lack of tactile function is to be expected.

In addition, gloves are often worn during many of these critical situations. Before buying a strobing light, ask yourself how well the switching method will work while wearing gloves. Do not limit your evaluation of strobe lights to lumen output, brightness, or brand. Be sure to experiment with the various switching solutions offered and anticipate their effectiveness under stress-related conditions.

Operating in a low-light environment requires many elements and skills to be successful and maintain a position of tactical advantage. There is not enough room in this article to discuss low-light tactics in their entirety. I will, however, discuss strobe light considerations as they relate to control.

Suspect control is one of the most important aspects of low-light applications but also the most underused and misunderstood concept. Let’s think of the many advantages you realize by applying light as a control tool.

With the light in his eyes, the suspect is preoccupied and uncomfortable and will not be able to direct an effective threat your way. He will not be able to look for escape paths, and he will have a very difficult time determining how many of you he is faced with. His discomfort, disorientation, and inability to see clearly in your direction all result in a situation that will be much easier for you to control. The chances are much greater that he will become compliant rather than raise the level of his resistance.

I am not talking about a major change in your tactics. All I am asking you to do is to make a small adjustment in the application of your light/firearm deployment skills. Place the hotspot of the light in the suspect’s eyes. (See photo). There will be enough peripheral light to see the hands even if they are left down by his side. More than likely, the hands will be brought to his face in an effort to shield away the light. If a cover officer is available, a constant-on light should be deployed in addition to the strobe so you can maintain the best visibility of the suspect.

These are but a few of the considerations surrounding strobe light operation in law enforcement. Do I use one? You bet.

When used appropriately a strobe light can be a very powerful tool in your tactical tool box. As with any tool, its effectiveness depends on our ability to understand its limitations, benefits, and overall function.

There is no replacement for practice and skill refinement. The basis for any deployment system or technique is manipulation skills and ultimately the further refinement of those skill sets should be your goal. If you choose to add a strobe-capable light to your arsenal, become familiar with its operational controls and know when to use it. 

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