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IACP Special: LAPD builds a flashlight

Ed Note: The following is one in a series of articles written by PoliceOne columnists in the wake of the recently completed IACP conference in San Diego. Check out the IACP Special Coverage page for complete and continuing coverage of the event. If you attended the IACP and want to share your thoughts or photos, please let us know by sending an email.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in San Diego during the recently completed IACP conference, LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara presented what he calls a “case study problem solving.” He was talking about the unprecedented partnership between the public and private sectors that went into the creation of the new LAPD flashlight, also known as the Pelican 7060 LED.

LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara told IACP attendees about the private/public effort behind the LAPD flashlight.

Chief Hara sat down to talk with PoliceOne a few days before he gave the IACP presentation to give us a sneak preview of the seminar discussion and some deeper insight into the thinking that went into building the new handheld light, equipment that’s arguably as important to an officer’s safety as their sidearm or radio.

LAPD had to take a high profile incident and the reaction to that incident – national news casting law enforcement in a negative light –and somehow turn it into a positive. Hara says that the lessons learned serve as a template for other agencies that have to contend with the demands of competing constituencies. He explains that the entire process, begun in the wake of the Stanley Miller incident in 2004 and culminating in the introduction of the new LAPD flashlight, was highly collaborative and relied heavily on the input of police officers, city administrators, the public, and the technology team at Torrance, Calif.-based Pelican Products.

“What are you going to have to consider as the chief of police for your organization if you have an incident like the Stanley Miller incident? Who are your stakeholders? Certainly you would get the reaction from the public. You certainly will get reaction from the media, and also the individuals that manage the city – whether it’s the mayor, the city manager, or the city council. These are individuals that are going to be important in how you respond and how you’re going to deal with a situation like this.

“But sometimes people forget the actual officers and how they feel – how the organization and other law enforcement agencies will feel – because it’s never isolated to one agency when something becomes a national incident. Everyone is impacted by the actions of other officers in law enforcement,” Hara says.

Hara says that once the Chief of Police made the decision to change the LAPD flashlight, it was critical to get the involvement of the officers who were ultimately going to use the replacement gear, ensuring that they be furnished with a quality product they can rely on and have confidence in. “I think we ended up doing that, particularly in how we went through the problem solving process – listening to the individuals, particularly the officers, about what they would like to see in the flashlight,” he says.

Working through the city’s process of selecting an equipment manufacturer – submitting quotes and proposals and whatnot – was just the beginning for Pelican. Hara says it was critical that Pelican was accommodating in responding to the different changes that were requested throughout the design, testing, and approvals processes that went into the creation of the new LAPD flashlight.

“We were going to distribute 10,000 flashlights within our organization – that’s a huge investment for any agency and for us costs us over a million dollars – but also for a company that worked with a public agency, [Pelican] certainly invested a lot through their R&D process.”

As a public agency, LAPD doesn’t have the capacity to design and create a new flashlight, and following the official RFP process, Pelican came through with the help they needed. A Pelican spokesman tells PoliceOne that it was truly a companywide effort, with Vice President of New Product Development Kevin Deighton and Engineering Department Manager Greg Kang serving as the project’s point people and the sales manager acting as liaison to the LAPD.

“When our competitors saw the specs for the flashlight, they basically told us ‘Good luck,’ but the most challenging design specs were the LED brightness, unit weight, and burn time,” Pelican’s Kevin Deighton tells PoliceOne. “The LAPD needed an incredibly bright light in a very small and light weight package so our Engineering staff needed to innovate with technology that really hadn’t been invented yet.

Deighton further explains that the most unique thing about the 7060 LED (other than the fact that it was jointly developed with one of the nation’s biggest law enforcement agencies) is its patented ‘Dual Switch’ technology.

“The light features two independently functioning switches located in the tail cap and at the neck. The tail cap switch allows the officer to use it as a tactical light or as a duty light with the side switch on the neck. Also, advances in the solid state lighting industry allowed us to replace the incandescent light sources that were omnipotent within the police lighting field with a product that has a significantly more robust design. This translates into providing the officers with a higher level of safety since the light will not burn out or break at an inopportune – as in life threatening – time.”

After the development phase, LAPD and Pelican underwent a fairly extensive testing period in which the department solicited feedback not only from within the department, but also outside groups, including a Union that was publicly critical at the outset of the plan to change LAPD’s flashlights.

“One of the most challenging things to do is to convince officers, because by nature we are suspicious of change and because of that you’ve got to show – you’ve got to demonstrate – that what we’re going to come up with was going to meet or exceed what we were going to change. And I believe we did that. We created a policy. We created standards. We created and issued them a flashlight that met a lot of standards of what they were asking for in a flashlight. Then ultimately, even with the criticism and the concern that the Union had had, they then printed something very supportive of the end result,” Hara says.

The main takeaway from Deputy Chief Hara’s IACP talk was that in problem solving, you have to bring in all the stakeholders – everyone who could to be impacted by a proposed change – and involve them in the process of deciding what is going to happen, and just as importantly, how it will happen.

Hara concludes: “You can’t make a decision and solve a problem in an isolated manner – you have to involve everyone, because there are so many stakeholders when you are a public servant. Using the Stanley Miller incident is one way of demonstrating this problem solving model. We went from a national incident with negative view of policing to an end result of moving forward, establishing a policy, creating a product, and earning positive feedback from the end users who in this case are the officers.”

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