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AN ILLUMINATING IDEA


May 21, 2014
By Richard Johnston

– Ontario Police College (OPC) pistol training manual.<1>

A business plan submitted to Barrie Police Service (BPS) senior command had one goal – present a
reason-based argument for the benefits of equipping frontline uniform personnel with an integrated handgun light system. Selection of the specific equipment, test and evaluation, pilot project, training and subsequent adoption of the business plan took place over six months.

The BPS is becoming the first police service in Ontario, and possibly Canada, to issue an integrated weapon light to every front line officer. While this may seem like a simple equipment purchase to some, for others it recognizes the importance of the front line officer, the backbone of every police service.

BPS administration and senior officers deserve recognition for their forward-looking approach to an equipment issue long identified as a ‘need to have’ by frontline ranks. They unanimously supported the plan and expedited the acquisition of the integrated weapon lights after equipment selection, procedural and regulatory requirements and training was completed.

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As a mid-sized service, BPS has the advantage of economies of scale. It is organizationally nimble enough to acquire equipment at minimal cost but large enough for it to have a broad organizational effect.

The integrated light system was never meant to replace an officer’s flashlight. Its sole purpose is assisting an officer in making better decisions once articulable grounds already exist for drawing their weapon. Officers who believe their or another person’s life is in mortal danger require as much information as possible to make the best decisions in the least amount of time.

Officers recognize the danger involved in low light situations and are trained to deal with threats that they are aware of. The unseen threat poses the greatest danger. Any equipment that enables them to take in an increased amount of visual information is of critical value.

“Perception is received from the five senses. Under conditions of extreme stress, the brain prioritizes these senses, giving the precedence to vision.” <2>

Current high-risk, low-light situation tactics require officers to begin from a disadvantaged position. They must employ a single-hand weapon drawn position while holding a flashlight with their support hand. As of 2013, the OPC instructs officers in a number of techniques to deploy with handguns drawn in high-risk low-light situations. <3> These tactics are built around the premise that using a flashlight requires an adoption of physical manipulation which is not in accordance with universally identified shooting principles, specifically grip. <4>

All current single hand flashlight techniques compromise the known best practices in shooting principles. “One’s grip is by far the most important fundamental with respect to effective shot placement and speed in a confrontation.” <5 >

The obvious advantage to integrating the light source with the weapon is that an officer can grip their gun with both hands while still illuminating the area, enabling them to adhere to the principles of good marksmanship.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that one has far greater ability to maintain positive control of a weapon with two hands rather than one. The benefits of exerting greater pressure on the frame in a high stress situation is hardly arguable. ‘Two hands are better than one’.

Training: We chose a model to test after reviewing all integrated lights on the market. Our selection happened to function with near identical muscle mechanics with our current holster and firearm. While a new holster was necessary, the drawing and operation of the weapon with the light had a minimal learning curve.

Scenario-based training was conducted using simulated ammunition in our training facility. Both male and female test subjects of varying levels of experience were drawn exclusively from frontline personnel and conducted high risk scenarios. Of note is the scenario where officers had no cause to draw their integrated weapon light system (the scenario was set up to have the officer only require a flashlight to accomplish the task).

Frontline officers once again rose to address the cynics. They understood the differences between a task requiring a flashlight versus a high risk, low-light situation requiring their weapon to be drawn and the need for an integrated light.

Cost: Given the technology, quality of equipment and size of the BPS, the cost was not prohibitive. Like other fixed costs, it is being spread over a three year staggered implementation. While frontline officers will be the first to be equipped, all operational officers will eventually be issued both a plain clothes and uniform holster.

This idea started and remains focused on improving the ability of frontline officers to carry out their work in the safest fashion possible. Stay safe.

Footnotes – all from the Ontario Police College Basic Constable Training Program Pistol Training Manual, September 2012. Revised 8/29/2012.

  1. Page 59

2, 4 & 5. Page 27

  1. Pages 62-63

BIO

Rich Johnston is a Barrie Police Service sergeant. Contact him at rjohnston@barriepolice.ca with questions or for more information.