Why two-stage lights make sense for cops

The Police Officers Safety Association
Reprinted Courtesy of American COP Magazine

With a simple push of the tail-cap switch, an officer can go right into tactical/control mode with the same light.
If you make a thorough examination of the high-intensity hand-held lights on the market, you’ll discover:

* There is a difference in features and quality among lights;

* Those differences will be important to you in proportion to how far from “normal patrol” or “normal investigations” your job is; and

* There is so much competition these days in the kinds of lights that most of us need most of the time that you won’t be at a severe disadvantage with almost any light from a quality manufacturer. 

High-quality lights are becoming, like knives and to an extent even guns, common and inexpensive. (OK, so guns aren’t all that cheap.)  In other words, if you stick to the major quality manufacturers, you’ll wind up with somewhere between a perfectly serviceable light and an exceptional piece of engineering. 

But as the competition heats up on the mainstream lights, there is a new class of light on the market that makes real sense:  Two-stage lights. Two-stage lights have two levels of light output, usually high and low (for example, 60 lumens and 3 lumens) or high and medium (100 lumens and 10 lumens, for example).

(Actually, Surefire introduced two-stage lights several years ago, but these were more for recreational activities than law enforcement, and in any case, they now have several two-stage models, some very serviceable for police officers. Of course,  other manufacturers are bringing similar models to market, too.)

Three two-stage lights in the close to the “original” size, top to bottom: Blackhawk’s Duo PKL-6, Surefire’s U2, and Streamlight’s Night Com.  All run on 2 CR123 batteries.
Why do two-stage lights make sense?  Well, consider that even your basic 2-CR123 battery, 6 volt, 60 lumen light is usually too bright to read and write by (remember the glare when you write a citation or examine a glossy drivers license with one?).  Also, if you are searching for an extended period — say an automobile inventory search or an apartment drug search — then the bright light can become aggravating, and maybe even exhaust the light’s batteries before the search is over. 

Remember, these super-bright lights were designed as subject control tools as much as anything else; they were designed to put out uncomfortable levels of light! Today, 100 lumens isn’t an uncommon amount of light to carry on your belt. That’s definitely too much light to reflect back into your own eyes, or to do routine tasks with!

In addition to the 60 or 100 lumen light on my belt, for years I've carried a 30 or so lumen LED light in my kit. In a tactical situation, I want my bright light…but when we have to spend two hours searching a subject’s apartment for the drugs we came for, the smaller light is much better. You certainly have analogous situations that on your particular job. The problem, though, is that A) two lights is twice as many to schlep around as one, and B) when you need your “other” light, it’s usually somewhere else. A light that performs both functions in the same physical package can solve both problems. 

I know: there are  many that will say that having redundant lights is better than having a dual-function light in a single package (the one is none, two is one argument), so let me address the subject of back-up lights now. Yes, I believe in them.  My back-up light is in my kit, and it’s a more powerful light than my belt-worn light…because, not being carried on my person I have no size constraints for it. 

Three “slimline” two-stage lights, all requiring 2 CR123 batteries. left to right: the Surefire L2 Lumamax, the Blackhawk Ally PL-3X, and Surefire’s A2 Aviator.

It’s not on my person like my second gun is because: 1) I already have too much stuff to carry, and; 2) Unlike a soldier in hostile territory, any emergency or tactical use I have to make of my primary light is very likely (albeit not certainly) to be of pretty short duration. 

If my light was really close to losing power, I’d already know about it from the light output itself — and have fixed it with the spare batteries in my kit, which I also carry.  Yes, my light could break, and that could be bad, but high-quality lights are pretty reliable.  Besides, see #1 just above.  It’s a trade-off, like all equipment decisions are.  It’s my trade-off, anyway.  Here’s five two-stage lights that you may want to consider.

Surefire U2

Surefire L2 Lumamax

Three two-stage lights with momentary-on, tail-cap, two-stage switches: Blackhawk’s Duo PXL-6, Surefire’s L2 Lumamax, and the Surefire A2 Aviator.  All models go constant-on with a twist of the tail-cap.

Surefire A2 Aviator

Blackhawk Duo PXL-6

More Information
BlackHawk Products Group
4850 Brookside Court
Norfolk, VA 23502
(800) 694-5263

Surefire, Inc.
18300 Mt. Baldy Circle
Fountain Valley, CA  92708 
(800) 828-8809

Streamlight, Inc
30 Eagleville Road
Eagleville, PA 19403
(800) 523-7488

  The U2 is a 2-CR123 battery size light (at 6.13-inches, it’s a bit longer than the standard 6P).  Just in back of the bezel is a rotating collar that acts like a rheostat.  Twisting it allow you to select one of six light output levels between 2 and 100 lumens from the LED lamp. The tail-cap switch is a momentary/constant-on one—that is, partial depression gives you a momentary-on light, while full depression turns the U2 constant-on.  You can carry the U2 set to high output so that in an emergency situation it’s set to go, while a low-stress search situation will allow you time to set the output to low.  The only caveat with this light is its two-stage switch with the possibility of being pushed to constant-on inadvertently under stress.  The L2 is a “slimline” model, with a ¾-inch body; it’s slightly longer than a 6P at 6.1-inches.  It has two light output levels from its LED lamp: 100 and 15 lumens.  The tail-cap switch is a momentary-on only switch with two stages: depress it part way for the low output, and fully for 100 lumens.  Constant-on for either level is accomplished by twisting the tail-cap.  The two light output levels are ideal for searching (15 lumens) and tactical work (100 lumens), and the high-output fully-depressed position of the switch under stress is just what you want then.  With 1 hour of runtime on high and a potential 18 hours of low output search time, the L2 is an ideal two-stage light, in my opinion.  With it’s slim diameter and integral pocket clip, it’s as suited for plain-clothes as it is for uniformed patrol.

  Surefre introduced this model a while ago and it’s still a good choice. With its two-stage, momentary-on only tail-cap switch, you can choose either 3 or 50 lumens from its LED lamp, with a partial or full depression.  Constant-on for either level is accomplished by twisting the tail-cap.  The A2 is also a “slimline” model, but it’s close to the original 6P’s length, at 5.6-inches. With its pocket clip, this is a good plain-clothes two-stage light.  For a duty belt, though, I’d opt for the slightly longer but twice as bright L2.  This new light from Blackhawk put out either 65 lumens from it’s incandescent lamp, or 9 lumens from an LED lamp. At 5.12-inches in length and with about a 1-inch body, it’s pretty much standard size for a 2 CR123 battery light.  The tail-cap switch is a two-stage, momentary-on only design—which is perfect for police work. Constant-on for either level is accomplished by twisting the tail-cap. It’s comfort in the hand is notable. Another ideal LE two-stage light.

Blackhawk Ally PL-3x  This 5-inch long, 7/8-inch body diameter light was designed for outdoorsmen rather than law enforcement, as evidenced by its two-stage, constant-on only tail-cap switch.  The first click turns the light constant-on to 100 lumens of output, a second click of the switch dims the light to 15 lumens of output from the LED lamp.  I mention this light here for those odd LE jobs that don’t require a momentary-on (that is, a tactical) capability.

Streamlight Night Com  This unit has a selectable dial near the head that allows you to select its light output, which is controlled by the tail-cap two-stage momentary-on/constant-on switch.  You can select 72 lumens of white light from an incandescent bulb, 8 lumens from 2 LEDs, or indicator-level  light (around a lumen) from a third LED.  The LEDs are available in either red or green.  This unit is 5.5-inches long and about 1-inch in diameter.  If you prefer red or green for your low-level light, this unit makes sense.  Its one weakness however, from an LE perspective, is the inadvertent constant-on possibility of the tail-cap switch under stress.

About the author

In partnership with PoliceOne.com, POSA is offering free tactical training videos on subjects like tactical shotgun usage, crisis entry, disarming a suspect, and more. Click here to view the videos.

To learn more about POSA, visit www.posai.org

Police Officers Safety Association, Inc.
PO Box 685
Chepachet, RI 02814
Phone: 401.568.9951
Fax: 401.568.9677

David Kenik, Executive Director dkenik@posai.org
Ralph Mroz, Training Director rmroz@posai.org

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