Guest Post: Night Vision in Law Enforcement: An Overview


Craig Pearson is an outdoors enthusiast and adventurist. His main passions are hog hunting in Texas and writing about his many adventures. He currently blogs for nightvision 4 less, a supplier of high quality night vision equipment.

Like the military, those working in law enforcement have access to impressive equipment that many civilians can’t get their hands on, at least legally. I’m sure some of the more enthusiastic night vision fans not in the military or law enforcement have tried. Because of this accessibility, night vision devices have proven invaluable to law enforcement officials in the observation and apprehension of those who wish to break the law.

Night vision can provide an extra ounce of security when entering low light and unlit areas. Officers can spot someone hiding in the shadows giving them the upper hand in a potentially unsafe situation. Many fugitives have the false impression that the darkness is their ally, when in reality that sense of security is being used against them. Depending on the type of night vision officers are using, such as thermal imaging, they can track the subject via the body’s natural radiation: heat, which, try as a fugitive might, is incredibly difficult to conceal, especially to more sensitive equipment.

In other scenarios, officers may just sit and watch. Night vision gives the luxury of become sentinels of the night and they may perform surveillance of suspected illegal activity and gather the evidence they need to move forward with an arrest. Along the border of both Canada and Mexico, border patrol and other agents use night vision to survey those who cross over illegally and those who are transporting illicit materials, such as drugs or weapons. Since a majority of border crossing activity occurs at night, they can use night vision to track and follow these individuals without discovery, and possibly lead to apprehension.

Night vision equipment also plays a huge role in search and rescue, especially when time is off the essence and searchers need to work through the night to ensure a positive outcome. Trained search and rescue pilots and spotters use both image intensification and thermal imaging devices to spot movement and heat signatures. Thermal imaging can be particularly useful in forested areas where it may be difficult to distinguish the movement of a branch or an animal from the search subject.

Of course, using a night vision device isn’t without its tradeoffs. You may be able to use the darkness to your advantage, but in many cases, you lose peripheral vision and depth perception. Many newer goggles are working to correct these issues, to varied success. Since for the last several years the US has been embroiled war, night vision has seen some impressive strides, since it’s so heavily used in night patrol and combat situations—the better our night vision, the greater our advantage.

To help overcome some of these disadvantages, many officers choose image intensification and thermal monoculars. This gives them the flexibility of seeing easily in dark areas, while allowing them to maintain peripheral vision and depth perception. Plus, night vision monoculars tend to be lighter and easier to carry than their goggle counterparts. In situations requiring significant personal mobility, goggles are more useful when mounted on a helmet, which can cumbersome and uncomfortable. Though, as night vision continues advance, any advantage criminals have in the night will continue to decline. With lighter and more efficient equipment, law enforcers will be able to perform the jobs more effectively.