Weapon-mounted lights require special training
A sure recipe for disaster is putting a new piece of safety equipment into service without proper training — this is especially true of weapon-mounted lights
The really good news about weapon-mounted lights is that they automatically line up the muzzle of the gun with an illumination source. Where the gun goes, the light goes. Under extreme stress, it is far easier to place hits on a threat with a pistol with a WML than attempting to coordinate a handheld unit.
On the downside, you now have a pistol attached to a flashlight.
This is indeed a major stumbling block, but it can be overcome with a comprehensive training program.
It has been my observation that most officers can perform to an acceptable level with a pistol and handheld flashlight at close range. Performance tends to go into the toilet when we factor in distances greater than seven yards, add movement, and compress the time frames.
None of the popular flashlight-assisted shooting techniques allow the user to obtain a proper two-handed grip and as a result, marksmanship suffers. A pistol with a WML will allow you to get two hands around the grip of the gun and get more center hits on target.
Simple operational skills, such as reloading or clearing a stoppage, are much easier to perform with a WML affixed to the pistol. With a handheld unit, officers have to perform a juggling act with the flashlight when performing these tasks. Officers can also utilize cover much more effectively when utilizing a WML, particularly when shooting around their support side.
However, officers who utilize a WML must be made to understand that it is an adjunct to — not a replacement for — the handheld flashlight.
I am personally aware of a few instances where officers used a WML for routine tasks — such as checking out driving credentials — putting citizens at risk. A WML should never be used for routine searching or probing. A handheld flashlight is a utility tool that can be used for a wide range of tasks.
A weapon-mounted light is a single-purpose tool.
Unless a grip-controlled remote switch is used, operators should be taught to activate the WML with the thumb of the support hand. Using the index finger of the dominant hand to activate the light is an especially dangerous practice that may lead to a negligent discharge under extreme stress.
That finger has one job only, and that is to work the trigger of the pistol.
Other concerns include managing threats at gunpoint, incidental to arrest. For most contacts, I favor a slightly depressed muzzle with finger off the trigger when challenging with the drawn pistol. Even with the muzzle depressed and the hot spot of the beam directed down, there is sufficient peripheral light to see the subject’s hands and waistband. The gun is brought to bear on the threat and fired in about a half a second.
With the gun held in this manner, the officer gives up little — if anything — and gains a huge safety barrier against a negligent discharge.
Trained and Ready
Can an agency-wide policy for patrol really work? You bet it can! About 10 years ago, the Marietta (Ga.) Police Department equipped their entire patrol division with weapon-mounted lights. Just prior to this, department officers were involved in multiple low-light shootings that served as a stimulus to adopt WML technology.
Equipping the troops was the easy part, but the Marietta Police Department followed up with a comprehensive training program that has frequent maintenance intervals.
A weapon-mounted light can provide the patrol officer with significant tactical advantages, as long as the systems chosen are backed by a comprehensive training program.