This video shows the point of view of a SWAT marksman responding to a hostage situation at a local business park. The armed suspect is using a hostage as a human shield in the front atrium as he communicates with the on-scene hostage negotiator. The officer is given orders to hold on the target, but must be ready to take a crisis shot on the suspect if negotiations break down and the hostage is thought to be in immanent danger.
We first see the officer’s view through a standard day scope. As we can see, the darkened atrium presents an almost impossible view. Movement can be seen through the building’s glass door, but without lighting, it is impossible to decipher what we are looking at. The officer cannot determine who the hostage is from the suspect. Everything is in complete shadow making a crisis shot impossible and putting the hostage in danger. It’s not until the suspect makes the hostage open the door that the outside lights provide enough illumination to take a clear shot. However, if the suspect closes the door again, the officer will be back in the proverbial dark. Clearly, the use of a standard rifle scope in this situation would not only put the hostage’s life in jeopardy, but it perfectly illustrates the handicap created when a responding law enforcement agency lacks night vision capability.
In the second part of the video, we see the same situation played out through a dedicated 4X night vision weapon scope. Here, we can easily see into the darkened building and make out both the suspect and his hostage. We can see that the suspect has a semi-automatic pistol held to the hostage’s head and is standing behind him. In fact, the night vision image allows for clear identification of the suspect and his hostage. The officer not only knows where to shoot, if required, but he knows who the suspect is. We can easily determine that the suspect is an adult male with short hair and a larger build. We can see that the hostage is also an adult male with short hair, a beard, and an athletic build. We can even see when the suspect and hostage are speaking (or in the case of this role-play, we can see when they are laughing because the “suspect” is yelling out crazy stuff). When the door is opened, the outside lights create a slight bloom on the two individuals, but the level of detail and identification capability does not change. In a situation like this, night vision is giving the officer a commanding edge.
In the final segment of this video, we observe the same situation through a thermal weapon scope. While the building is clearly seen to include the columns, lights, paint on the parking lot, we are faced with a show-stopping problem: thermal does not see through glass. While the hostage negotiator is talking with the suspect, the marksman has absolutely no way of observing the situation, rendering him unable to take a critical shot should the need arise. It is not until the suspect forces the hostage to open the glass door that we can even see that anyone is there. When the pair are finally exposed, the officer is given enough data to see who is who and that there is a pistol to the hostage’s head. But, the thermal unit does not provide any facial detail. In this circumstance, the thermal scope is set to no magnification in an effort to retain as much resolution as possible. Resolution is critical in this situation because the officer may have to take a shot within a fraction of an inch. If he were to use the electronic zoom, he would lose resolution and hinder his ability to identify the critical shot.
The night vision weapon scope is the clear winner in this scenario. The standard day scope renders the marksman impotent to affect any type of resolution to the situation and the thermal scope was arguably a liability. Yes, the suspect and hostage became more clearly visible when the door was opened. But, without a green light to take the shot, the pair could just as easily go back inside the atrium, placing the officer in the same situation again.