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How your department can make searching for suspects, missing persons and discarded evidence safer and more efficient

The FLIR Breach PTQ 136 thermal camera is an officer’s sixth sense in the field


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How your department can make searching for suspects, missing persons and discarded evidence safer and more efficient

FLIR Systems, Inc.

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Sponsored by FLIR

By Warren Wilson for PoliceOne BrandFocus

“He was where?”

FLIR's thermal camera expands your search capabilities
FLIR's thermal camera expands your search capabilities

I uttered those words with a sick, sinking feeling. Finding a suspect during the secondary search on a high-risk warrant service can drive a SWAT team supervisor to early retirement. That means we missed him on our primary search and whether or not bad things happened was up to him or her, not us.

Between our team and a few of our neighboring agencies, suspects have been missed hiding inside a wall (after having shimmied down from the attic), under a large pile of clothes, in the undercarriage of a boxcar and in a refrigerator. I recall the discomfort I felt as a jail escapee bragged to his eventual captors that he’d watched them as he was hiding in tall brush.

Hang around cops enough and you’ll hear even more incredible stories of felony hide-and-seek. In all of these cases, the suspect was missed by the team members (and a few times, by a K-9) on the first pass.

Searching for an armed suspect with the naked eye is challenging and dangerous and is complicated further by darkness, foliage or any of the other various visual obstructions presented by both urban and suburban areas.

Having experienced a few such misses myself while on a technology-poor tactical team and in a decade of patrol work, I know thermal imaging would have made all the difference. I can think of more than a few occasions where this equipment would have been useful in finding missing children or discarded evidence, as well.

Not Your Father’s FLIR

FLIR has been on the forefront of thermal imaging equipment since the 1970s. When most cops think of FLIR, they think of “Forward Looking Infrared” cameras attached to police helicopters bringing an exciting aerial viewpoint to reality television in the 1990s.

However, FLIR technology offers us many more options today. Thermal cameras are within the fiscal reach of most departments who don’t have air units in their budget. For example, the FLIR Breach PTQ 136 is a 7.4-ounce, 5.5-inch microbolometer (a heat-detecting camera) which can be handheld or attached to a helmet via mini-rail for hands-free operation.

The Breach is not a night vision device, which gathers light to create an image. Why is the distinction between night vision and thermal imaging important? Light-gathering devices are only helpful in low-light situations. But heat signatures are distinguishable even in the daylight.

The FLIR Breach PTQ 136 detects infrared radiation to “see” heat sources emitted from things like the human body, vehicle engines and discarded firearms. In fact, any object that contrasts significantly from the heat signature of its background can be discerned with a bolometer.

Documentation is Life

Documentation in cop work once meant writing solid reports. Today it means videoing as much of our work as practicable. Almost daily, we see false complaints against law enforcement debunked by bodycams or dash-mounted cameras. Equally as important, video recordings assist officers in establishing probable cause for a warrant or making a case for prosecution.

Speaking of prosecutors, they most definitely appreciate video evidence. It only makes sense that the FLIR Breach PTQ 136 has onboard recording and image capture. It can save up to 2.5 hours of video or 1,000 images. Today, this is a must-have feature for any such device.

Palettes

The FLIR Breach PTQ 136 monocular has seven different palettes, or color schemes. The user chooses the optimal palette depending on the environment, background, how it will be used and personal preference.

For example, the “white hot” palette shows warmer objects in white and cooler objects in black. “Sephia” displays warmer temperatures in yellow and cooler temperatures in black. It minimizes eye strain for longer missions, such as surveillance.

Have a Say in the Matter

Firefighters have been using bolometers to locate victims in smoke-filled structures for decades. They’ve become commonplace in the fire department equipment arsenal. It’s about time law enforcement joined them.

Most career cops have experienced a miss and understand the frustration that goes with it. We know that failure to locate a discarded firearm means it could end up in the hands of a curious child. Failure to locate a missing person could mean a loss of life. Failure to locate an armed felon allows him or her an uncomfortable amount of control over what happens next. Thermal imaging technology like the FLIR Breach PTQ 136 gives us more control over that outcome.

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