There are lots of tools of the trade associated with law enforcement. Most of us automatically think of our guns, impact weapons, radios, handcuffs, etc. And we often take their expense for granted — until we’re buying them with our own hard-earned money. Flashlights can certainly cause a lot of grumbling, and I’ve often heard officers complain about how expensive they are and the batteries needed to keep ’em running. And I love the “If they don’t issue it, then I ain’t buying it” crowd. Great, go ahead and shoot yourself in the foot by short-changing your chance to save your butt when the chips are down. Idiots.
This is the same group who make the classic comparison of cop lights to the ones we all see in clamshell packs next to the register at most of the big box stores, “Why can’t I just use this $20 light? It looks just like a $200 cop light, what makes the others so damn expensive?” Lots of stuff does.
While there are good lights for everyday use at all sorts of price ranges, I’ve yet to see a cop-worthy light at the $20 price point. Our lights are specifically engineered and built for the abuse they’ll be subjected to during their life with us. Whether rattling around in a gear bag in the trunk of a car, getting dropped during a foot pursuit or scuffle, used as an impact weapon — or any of the other things we subject our lights to — they have to be built tank-tough. This is true of the body and the internal components. You’re trusting your life to this thing, so don’t go cheap.
LED’s are where it’s at in the world of lights. They’re not as delicate as incandescent bulbs and they last for what seems an eternity. I distinctly remember always having a spare bulb in the tailcap of my duty Maglight, in addition to a few more in a well-padded box in my gear bag. When Xenon bulbs were all the rage, I went through ’em by the dozen. A drop from even the shortest height managed to pop the bulb and render the light useless, and the emitted light ran pretty hot if you needed the light on for long periods. I actually had a Xenon bulb melt the plastic lens of my flashlight after a workmate turned on my light in my trunk — an intentional act and long story — but it goes to show how hot these lights could get.
A lot of heat is generated with LED’s too. Manufacturers have had to create ways to dissipate the heat, and this technology (and the components) can be pricey. Programming our lights to have a multitude of functions (modes) requires expensive microchips, unlike a simple on/off switch. All this high-tech gadgetry inside the body of a light needs to be protected and makers use hard-anodized aluminum or polymers. Sometimes combinations of the two.
Aluminum body lights are quite sturdy, but can be a bit heavy. And while polymer lights are lighter, they aren’t as sturdy as aluminum. Run over an aluminum light and it may get scratched and dented, but a polymer light might crack.
The reflectors are also significantly different than other lights. The angle of the reflector is important for how the “spot” of light is thrown, in addition to the peripheral light. Then there’s the task of keeping everything safe from the elements. A light’s no good to you if you can’t be assured it’ll hold up in the rain. Rechargeable batteries can make our lights more expensive, but that expense is usually mitigated by how long they last. Costs add up to bullet-proof this stuff.
I look at the conundrum of how “expensive” a cop light might be the same way I look at motorcycle helmets. I’d no sooner wear a cheap, swap meet helmet than I’d carry a cheap light from Walmart. Get it?
I carry a high-quality light because it’s built for the specific needs of law enforcement. A big box store light is meant as an afterthought for the average person. It’s something they might throw in their vehicle or in the kitchen “stuff-drawer.”
My purpose-built light just might — will — save my ass some day, and my life is worth a lot more than $20. The next time you catch yourself grousing about an expensive light, think about how much you’re worth. Ten-dollar head? Get that $10 helmet then.