Nonlethal weaponsBlinding flashlight developed as new law enforcement tool

Published 22 February 2008

California company, working with DHS funds, develops a blinding flash light which may well replace taser guns, pepper spray, and rubber bullets as law enforcement’s non-lethal weapon of choice

Tasers are controversial. Pepper spray may backfire. Rubber bullets are not always effective — and at times too effective, killing the people they hit. A new weapon under development by DHS may well become the less-than-lethal weapon of choice for law enforcement officers. Baltimore WJZ’s Derek Valcourt reports that the device is called LED Incapacitator, and that it is a high-tech flashlight that flashblinds. “This is much different than just shining a bright flashlight in somebody’s face,” said Bob Lieberman, president of Torrance, California-based Intelligent Optical Systems (IOS), which works on the LED Incapacitator. “It’s designed to give the user an advantage over a potential adversary without causing any long-term damage.” DHS awarded IOS an $800,000 contract to develop the flashlight technology in hopes that all law enforcement officers would be able to use the weapon to subdue, but not kill, suspects who refuse to follow orders. When shined into someone’s eyes, the strobing light disorients and even temporarily blinds them. The effect lasts long enough to give law enforcement officials an upper hand, allowing them to tackle and even handcuff suspects before they can harm anyone.

The device flashes LED lights at several specific frequencies. Before your brain has time to adjust to one frequency, the incapacitator flashes another. Add multiple colors, which the eyes read differently, and the human brain just can not keep up. In fact, if you look at the strobing lights long enough it can make you sick. “The natural human response, they are going to wince or squint or turn their face away,” said Commander Sid Hale with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office, who helped the develop the incapacitator. “This is about the safest thing you can find and still be considered some type of force. This is about one step above screaming and yelling at the guy.”

DHS officials hope they can outfit Secret Service agents, border patrol, Coast Guard, and air marshals with the devices. “In effect what you are trying to do is get the person to close their eyes and make it hard for them to keep being aggressive and coming at you,” DHS’s David Throckmorton told Valcourt. “For them it would be to stop a terrorist or whoever from advancing.” Throckmorton points out most law enforcement officers already carry flashlights. “You don’t want the agents to have to carry multiple devices out there. So you would use this as a replacement. It’s dual purpose. It’s a flashlight and then when you go into a higher power mode, it will incapacitate people,” he said.

Lieberman says the device is safe and will not cause long-term damage to the eyes. “We’ve been very careful to design this so that the maximum permissible limit for human eye safety is never exceeded,” he said. Human trials on the device are expected to begin soon at Pennsylvania State University’s Institute of Non-Lethal Defense Technologies. If all goes well, IOS expects the flashlights will be available to the law enforcement community by the fall. The company even hopes a smaller size model will be sold on store shelves for personal security. With its strobe light effect, DHS officials say this less than lethal weapon may even be used one day for crowd control. Larger model lights could be used to stop riots, like the ones in College Park after the University of Maryland basketball games in 2002 and 2006. They could even be mounted on prison walls to stop inmate riots.