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A Light in the Darkness : Law enforcement: First of five high-tech night vision enhancers is donated to LAPD. Devices are expected to aid surveillance, rescue operations.


For decades, darkness has been a faithful accomplice to the gang members on Blythe Street in Panorama City, cloaking their drug deals and drive-by shootings.

But on Friday, Los Angeles police acquired the ability to pierce the veil with a new, high-tech weapon developed for a battlefield of a different sort.

The first of five "Night Enforcer 250" night vision scopes--utilizing the same technology widely employed by the military in Operation Desert Storm and elsewhere in recent years--was donated to the LAPD by ITT Gilfillan of Van Nuys.

"One of the problems has been that (gang members) have seen us before we see them," said police Capt. James McMurray, of the LAPD's Van Nuys Division, who received the first scope.

"I think we just changed the balance."

Allowing for observation in near-total darkness, the scopes have been used for police work throughout the country. Last summer a pair was used by the Devonshire Division to track and capture a pair of suspected rapists in Chatsworth Park.

But the donation to the Van Nuys Division marks a new effort to phase these devices into the everyday arsenal of local law enforcement.

Over the next month, four more units will be donated to Los Angeles area law enforcement agencies, including at least two more to the LAPD.

Although the devices give an obvious surveillance advantage to undercover vice officers, beat officers also hope they will help protect the lives of those chasing suspects at night or performing search-and-rescue operations.

The 26-ounce scope converts available dim light--such as starlight--into electrical energy, boosts it electronically and then converts the energy into ghostly greenish-white images. Using the scope, a 6-foot-tall man could be spotted on a moonless night at a distance of 125 yards, the manufacturer says.

At a cost of $2,400 apiece, the night vision scopes have been widely used by the military--including operations in Kuwait, Iraq, Grenada and Panama--and only recently have been redesigned to meet the needs of local law enforcement.

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