Darkness presents special challenges for law enforcement officers.
The collective police history illustrates that violent crime spikes in the evening hours, often with tragic consequences. For centuries, criminals have used the cloak of darkness to help conceal their illicit activities.
Humans are visual creatures and, when our primary sensory receptor is compromised, performance suffers. In poor light, even simple tasks such as navigation through unfamiliar surroundings can be problematic. Locating and assessing potential danger is more difficult yet.
The most commonly used sensory aid for law enforcement officers remains a handheld flashlight. Flashlights are indeed the right tool for the job most of the time, but there are occasions where their use is ill-advised. When stealth is required, a white light can betray your position or compromise officer safety.
A tactically sound solution to problems in the dark is the use of thermal imaging technology. Thermal imaging evolved around the time of the Korean War and, in simplest terms, reads the heat signature given off by a person or object. All things with a temperature above absolute zero give off radiation which will be perceived by the thermal imaging device.
Recently, I had the opportunity to check out a most innovative sensory aid from Seek Thermal. The Seek Thermal Reveal ShieldPRO is a handheld thermal camera no larger than a smartphone which makes it highly portable. Designed for rugged outdoor use, the Reveal ShieldPRO is a durable design with an IP67 rating which means that it is completely protected against dust/dirt, as well as immersion protected (waterproof up to one meter for 30 minutes). Its operation is intuitive and, once activated, needs only to be pointed in the direction to be scanned. Objects are clearly visible on the viewing screen. The “hotter” the target object, the greater the contrast with its surroundings. The unit utilizes a 320 x 240 thermal sensor and offers a 24 degree field of view. The color display measures 2.4″ and utilizes Corning® Gorilla® Glass for increased durability.
The Reveal ShieldPRO has a startup time of two to three seconds and a 3.5 hour runtime. Its battery can be brought back up to speed with the provided recharging unit and a durable black nylon carrying case is also provided to allow for belt carry. As an added bonus, the Reveal ShieldPRO also sports an internal 300 lumen white light for additional capability.
The Seek Thermal Reveal ShieldPRO arrived just in time for our latest cycle of low light firearms training. On a completely dark range, I was able to monitor a line of shooters and their movements with no trouble at all.
The real test, of course, is finding people or objects in not so open terrain. To get a handle on this, I retreated to the wooded trail behind my house with my golden retriever. In the warmer months, the vegetation is so thick that it’s difficult to spot my dog in the dark, even with a flashlight. But, there was no hiding from the Reveal ShieldPRO.
Bad guys often like to jettison weapons and other contraband once they recognize that apprehension is inevitable. Many law enforcement officers have spent a great deal of time searching for discarded evidence and, unfortunately, sometimes come up empty. Could the Reveal ShieldPRO help?
In my informal testing, I placed a revolver just off the path. The Reveal ShieldPRO read the heat signature of the hidden handgun and made detection easy.
How far away will the Reveal ShieldPRO detect humans in the dark? I was able to easily define the human form out to about 150 feet. Hiding behind trash cans and shrubs also proved futile and I suspect that locating subjects hiding in a crawlspace is also easily accomplished.
The Seek Thermal Reveal ShieldPRO has brought thermal imaging technology down within reach of the patrol officer, at just a fraction of the cost of traditional thermal imagers. With an MSRP of $799.00, it costs about the same as a good service pistol and vastly increases an officer’s capabilities when working in the dark. This affordable technology allows the user to probe the dark in complete safety and provides a means of recovering evidence which might normally go unseen.
Captain Mike Boyle served with the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife, Bureau of Law Enforcement, and has been an active firearms instructor for more than 30 years. He has been an assistant police academy director and remains active as an academy rangemaster and instructor. Mike has served on the Board of Directors of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI) since 1996. He is the architect and coordinator of IALEFI’s Master Instructor Development Program.