The Best Law Enforcement Sunglasses
The Best Law Enforcement Sunglasses
Wearing sunglasses on duty does more than make you look cool. It can protect your eyes from harmful radiation and reduce blinding glare, and might even save your life. But what type of sunglasses work the best for a law enforcement application?
Let’s start with the basic question of polarization. Conventional wisdom says that polarized lenses are better, mostly because the marketing folks tell us they are. But to really know if that’s true, let’s look at how polarization works and how it might or might not be the best option.
Light comes at you from two different directions: vertical and horizontal. Non-polarized glasses provide protection against rays from both directions. Most glare, however, comes from light reflecting horizontally, such as off of water, pavement, snow, or a car hood.
To maximize glare reduction, polarization is added by building in a laminate filter on the sunglasses lens that blocks most of the horizontal light.
If you’ve ever been on a boat and looked down into the water wearing polarized sunglasses, you can see below the surface because the horizontal light reflected off the water stops at the lens, making what’s underwater visible.
For pure glare reduction, you can’t beat polarized lenses. They reduce eye strain and enhance clarity in most bright light conditions. The more comfortable your eyes, the less stress on your already stressful job. And they help you see most everything you’ll face on duty. In most cases, they are an excellent choice.
But that doesn’t mean they’re good for every situation. For example, you might struggle to see your in-car laptop, especially if it has an LCD screen, which transmits light mostly horizontally. Pilots run into this same issue with electronic flight instruments. It’s why most airline pilots are not allowed to wear polarized sunglasses. From certain angles, information may disappear. Does this mean you shouldn’t wear polarized lenses? No, but how willing are you to keep taking your sunglasses on and off trying to see the screen as you run a license on a traffic stop or a plate while driving?
If the point of wearing sunglasses is to see better, the last thing you need is a pair that blocks your peripheral vision. This is dangerous for two reasons.
First, if you are trying to assess a situation that is spreading out in front of you, you need to see it all from left to right so you can know when and how to react. This is especially important if you find yourself dealing with multiple suspects or threats from different directions.
Second, have you ever tried to change lanes while driving but couldn’t see your blind spot? It’s an uneasy feeling. With sunglasses that have bulky frames or a hinge right next to your eye, that blind spot truly becomes a blind spot. When you glance over your shoulder, all you see is the sunglass frame, not the car creeping up to your left.
Wraparounds eliminate that blind spot by moving the hinge back enough to be out of sight.
They come in a variety of styles, from low-profile ski goggle look-alikes to classic Tom Cruise aviators. When selecting a pair, look to your left and right to make sure you have full peripheral vision.
If you’re like most people, your sunglasses get tossed around, sat on, shoved into a bag, and generally abused. Police work can be tough on equipment, sunglasses included. While aviators look cool, the wire frames bend easily and can get ruined quickly.
Keep your sunglasses looking good and functioning longer by choosing a heavy duty plastic frame with polycarbonate lenses that will stand up better to the everyday rigors of police work. Many of them also come with interchangeable lenses so you can switch out colors depending on conditions. Heavy duty lenses often offer ballistic protection, too, just in case you find a spent bullet casing flying back at you.
Some departments require officers to choose sunglasses that adhere to the ANSI Z87.1 safety standard.
This standard applies to durability against blunt impact, dust, small particles, and other potentially damaging conditions. Look for “Z87” stamped or etched into sunglasses that meet this standard.
No matter which sunglasses you choose, make sure they work for you. Do they do what you want and need them to do? They should be effortless, something you throw over your eyes and don’t think much about the rest of your shift. If you find yourself fidgeting with them or straining to see, it’s time to choose a new pair.