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The Aurora Police Department is reviewing its use of gun-mounted tactical flashlights after an officer who was using his light last month slipped on ice and accidently shot a suspect in Denver.
Police Chief Nick Metz said he is prepared to make any changes necessary, even though the department has repeatedly said the flashlight — which was on — was not a factor in the accidental discharge of the handgun on the night of Dec. 17 in Denver.
In that case, Aurora police were working with the Colorado State Patrol on an auto theft task force when they spotted Christopher Padilla, who was known to be a member of a car-theft ring. Padilla stopped his vehicle, got out and an unidentified Aurora officer slipped on ice. Stumbling, the officer's gun went off, shooting Padilla.
The suspect is expected to survive.
"From the incident that occurred in Denver, I've asked our range unit to look at our lights and (determine) if they are still considered a safe and effective tool," Metz said.
Aurora could be the only department in the region that still allows officers to use the mounted flashlights with switches on the grip below the trigger guard, based on a Denver Post analysis in 2014.
APD also allows flashlights with a toggle switch activated with the weak hand that is not holding the gun. Industry experts consider those the safer option.
The flashlights with switches below the trigger guard have been banned by Denver and other police departments. Those types of flashlights have been cited in accidental discharges in Colorado and throughout the nation.
Metz said last week that he did not know what type of mounted flashlight the unnamed officer who accidentally slipped on the ice had on his gun. But the chief decided to order a review anyway, saying it is always good practice to analyze equipment police officers use.
"I want to see what other departments are doing," Metz said. "If it calls for going in a different direction, then we'd definitely look at that."
Most departments that allow the tactical flashlights use the types that have switches on the side of the gun and are activated with the officer's weak or non-shooting hand.
Metz said he could access the tactical flashlight light on his own gun with either hand.
In a report issued by the Los Angeles County inspector general's office in December, the office found that a mounted flashlight that is turned on with light pressure on the grip used by L.A. officers in 2013 was responsible for a "marked increase in tactical unintended discharges" from the prior year.
In Colorado, most police departments use the flashlights that are turned on by the weak, non-shooting hand.
Denver's police chief banned the flashlights with switches below the trigger guard after two accidental discharges in 2013. Denver police declined to comment for this story because the department is investigating the Aurora incident, police spokesman Sonny Jackson said.
Jacki Kelley, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, said the department had allowed the flashlights that are turned on below the trigger but moved away from them about 10 years ago after several accidental discharges.
Since then, there have been no accidental discharges when trying to turn on the tactical flashlight, she said.
"It was a result of the complicated manipulation so we changed the way the gun was set up," Kelley said.
In Colorado Springs, police officers have a choice of using a tactical flashlight and 95 percent of the 670 officers do so, said police Lt. Catherine Buckley. The button to turn on the light is "nowhere near" the trigger, she said.
"They're a very valuable tool and it's one of those things you have to train with," Buckley said.
In Aurora, all new recruits who enter the police academy are required to purchase a tactical flashlight, and they receive training at the academy on how to use them, police spokeswoman Diana Cooley said.
At the end of 2014, Aurora police officers received training on how to use the flashlights. Officers again went through training in November 2015 and will do so this year as well, she said.
In addition, Cooley said, officers must undergo a "dim-lit" qualification course annually. There have been no accidental discharges by any officer using tactical flashlights, she said.
"Our officers are trained to use their weak hand to turn on the light and not the hand they use to pull the trigger," Cooley said.
Ron Martinelli, a firearms instructor and criminologist based in Southern California, said a person's "kinetic response" is similar when pulling a trigger and turning on a tactical flashlight and that can cause more accidental discharges.
"The best practice is for the firearms instructors to take a look at various mounted lights, put them through the paces and try to determine which lights are the safest," he said.