Bad guys like to think the night is their friend — using the cover of darkness to stalk victims and conceal crimes.

With new thermal optics for the consumer market, though, it’s now possible for many people to see in the dark, potentially spotting potential danger before something bad happens.

Take the new FLIR One Gen 3 thermal camera. It easily attaches to your smartphone and transforms it into a specialized sensor that can detect thermal signatures in your yard and home.

Besides revealing people and animals, it can also help identify places where houses are leaking warmth and cold or find water or electrical damage.

This device costs $199 and uses technology that had a price tag of $19,000 just 11 years ago, according to Angelo Brewer, FLIR’s Outdoor and Tactical Sales Manager.

Brewer said thermal imaging cameras’ decreasing prices and physical size, along with increasing features and image quality, are resulting in more homes, apartments, ranches and homesteads taking advantage of devices that, literally, offer a “sixth sense.”

“We constantly hear of FLIR customers who use thermal cameras, such as a FLIR Scout TK or Scout III, to scan their property at night. Even if they don’t have a specific threat, a FLIR camera is a great tool to determine why the dog is barking or the driveway alert went off when there is no vehicle to be seen,” he said.

The Scout TK monocular is an affordable $599 and offers good clarity out to nearly 100 yards. Scout III models can detect a human’s thermal signature out past 1,200 yards. The top end of this line is a unit sporting a 640 x 480 resolution sensor, 30Hz frame rate and 640 x 480 pixel LCD screen and selling for about $2,700.

Another option is the new FLIR Breach PTQ136 monocular. Originally designed for law enforcement, its retail price of $2,495 isn’t out reach of some consumers. The image quality through the 1280 x 960 display is great. It’s a compact 7.4 ounces.

The centerpiece is FLIR’s new Boson core. It has a fast 60 Hz refresh rate, which lets you retain a quality image when panning your field of view. Like the Scout models, it’s easily carried in pockets or purses.

The thermal cameras can record still images and video. The Breach PTQ136 has internal storage of up 2.5 hours of video recording or 1,000 pictures.

Each unit features multiple image palette options. For example, the Breach PTQ136 has seven image palettes, including Outdoor Alert, Artic, Sepia, Ironbow HC, Rainbow, Black Hot and White Hot. Some of the palettes offer a surreal view of the thermal world. Outdoor Alert can almost make it appear that fire is erupting on the ground.

Brewer points out home defense also extends to livestock and pets.

“Having the ability to detect and identify raccoons constantly killing and eating your chickens, feral hogs decimating your corn crop or coyotes stalking your dog in the backyard pays real dividends in money and peace of mind,” Brewer said.

Brewer said he was aware of one North Dakota customer who bought a thermal unit to covertly monitor her property at night following an automotive break-in.

Another, living in a rural part of Ohio, uses a FLIR Scout III every night for animal control and observation, hoping to identify the nocturnal critters that enjoy their large garden and which animal has been knocking over their trashcan.

Still, personal protection is at the heart of the issue.

“FLIR thermal cameras were designed for personal protection, giving users the ability to scan dark alleyways and deserted parking lots, understand the length of time a car has been parked, by the heat signature of the engine, and examine trails and wooded areas at night,” Brewer said. “With thermal, camouflage is no match as the heat source can been seen through foliage, dust and lite fog.”

Brewer said an undercover narcotics detective is currently using the FLIR Breach to scan parking lots and apartment complexes before attaching tracking devices to suspects’ cars.

“Getting busted while attaching these devises is quite common by someone lurking in the shadows. Adding FLIR to his roster of available tools has increased success rates in these scenarios greatly, while also keeping him and his team safe,” he added.

In a home defense situation, when rapid confrontation is inevitable, a person will likely resort to a personal firearm or other weapon for defense. In the home, a tactical, short-barreled shotgun stuffed with 000 buckshot can be tough to beat. But if you have time to set up a defensive position, a thermal camera can aid situational awareness.

“While most home defense scenarios focus on night-shooting techniques involving flashlights,” Brewer said, “thermal cameras allow a defender to silently observe the area without giving up the concealment that darkness provides.”

But, he cautioned, thermal cameras cannot identify if a thermal image is a suspect or a family member simply going for a drink of water. “It’s wise to use white light to categorize the situation prior to engaging in any activity,” he said.

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