Why Thermal is a Must-Have Tool for Police Officers

A police officer’s work is inherently dangerous. Every day they respond to high risk and unpredictable situations, which can turn life-threatening in an instant. A police officer has a three to five times higher occupational fatality rate than the average job. Though overall violent crime rates are down, assaults on law enforcement have increased. Between 1997 to 2015, more than 70,000 officers were victims of assault by people brandishing firearms and more than 1,700 officers were shot by criminals. (Federal Bureau of Investigation) What can departments do to increase the safety of their forces? Crime prevention and enhanced training of officers certainly helps. But, unfortunately, no matter how much effort and money are put into the prevention of crime, we will never fully eradicate bad guys doing bad things. That is why it is so critically important to send our peace officers out to duty combating criminal activity with the most effective and efficient equipment possible.

There has always been an industry interested in improving the lives of those who serve. Inventing cutting-edge and technologically-advanced equipment has kept not only police officers safe, but innocent bystanders, as well. Improvements in communication, bulletproof vests and less-than-lethal ammunition and weapons are good examples.

In a study done in partnership with Lockheed Martin, the Police Executive Research Forum found that one of these technologies that law enforcement need is surveillance equipment. (Law Enforcement Technology Needs Assessment: Future Technologies to Address the Operational Needs of Law Enforcement) Christopher S. Koper, Bruce G. Taylor, and Bruce E. Kubu write in the report,

Technological advancements in protective gear, weapons, and surveillance capabilities, to provide another illustration, can reduce injuries and deaths to officers, suspects, and bystanders. And to the extent that technology improves police effectiveness, strengthens communication between police and citizens, and reduces negative outcomes from police actions, it may also have the added, indirect benefit of enhancing police legitimacy.

One of these tools that have vastly improved throughout the years is night vision devices. Nearly 80% of departments surveyed use night vision devices, with almost half agreeing of its effectiveness, yet, night vision has its limitations. Many units across the country are finding out that thermal imagers are picking up where night vision lacks.

What is Thermal Imaging?

Simply put, thermal imagers and thermal cameras use a special sensor called a microbolometer to detect heat signatures and then translates them into images we can easily identify and distinguish. Thermal imaging devices like riflescopes, binoculars and monocular can be used during the day or night and don’t need any light source to work. Click here to read more about thermal imaging.

There are many ways thermal imaging can help law enforcement be safer, more efficient and effective.


Unlike generational night vision goggles, thermal imagers do not give off any light, so their use is completely covert. You go completely undetected when performing surveillance, which gives you the tactical advantage.

Locating Suspects

When suspects run and try to hide, especially at night, it can be very difficult to find them. Dense cover, bad weather, pitch dark, and camouflage clothing can keep a suspect hidden from tradition night vision, but with thermal, officers can quickly find someone hiding even in these conditions increasing arrest rates. Even footprints and things that a suspect touches leaves a heat signature.

Click here to read how The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office in Waco, Texas used a thermal monocular to locate suspects involved in a fatality car accident. 


Pulsar’s advanced thermal imagers have integrated video recording to collect evidence. (Read more-helicopter story) You can locate contraband like an illegal item thrown by a suspect, find items hidden in secret compartments or on a suspect’s body—like drugs or concealed firearms.

Crime Scene Investigation

Police officers use thermal to see where a car may have applied their brakes, follow blood trails, and see recently shot weapons and shell casings.

Search and Rescue

Police use thermal imaging to locate victims of accidents or missing people from up to 1,500 feet away.

Officer Safety

Thermal allows police officers to assess the situation from a distance identifying potential obstacles or threats like dogs before pursuing suspects on foot.

Pulsar sent out a Quantum XQ30V 2.5-10×23 thermal monocular to the Lee County, Florida Sheriff’s Office for testing and evaluation. Deputy Curtis Reford relays this officer safety story:

During our T&E period, Hurricane Irma hit our county.  We had no power and minimal communications for several weeks after the event. Three days after the storm, the Thermal proved its worth at the Patrol level. Our dispatch received a call of a possible home invasion/burglary. The caller stated she witnessed five to six males trying to make entry into a home. The house was located in one of the areas hardest hit during the storm. She said she did not know if the owners of the home stayed or evacuated. While we received information from the caller, our units were responding. The Sergeant, who was conducting the T&E for me was one of the first that arrived on scene. Upon arrival, he grabbed the thermal, exited his vehicle, and did a quick scan of the area. During his scan, he observed a male wearing a t-shirt and shorts pointing a handgun at him. The event quickly escalated. The Sgt. dropped the thermal, drew his weapon and proceeded to order the male to drop his weapon. The male immediately complied. After further investigation, the male pointing the gun at our Sgt. was an off-duty officer from a neighboring county who was trying to locate the men breaking into the home. The Thermal worked.  It worked flawlessly. It possibly saved our Sergeant’s life. It unintentionally stopped a “Blue on Blue” shooting. Within moments after the incident, the Sergeant came to me and told me everything that had just occurred. His hands were still shaking from the adrenaline dump. Two officers went home safely. The thermal worked.

Do you work in law enforcement? Do you have a story to tell us about how thermal imaging has helped you? We would love to hear from you, leave a comment below!

If you would like to talk to Law Enforcement Division, please contact 817-225-6650.

Check out Pulsar’s line of thermal imaging products by clicking here.


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