Thermal Imaging for Law Enforcement and Security

black hot surveillance

Black Hot v. White Hot Thermal Images

While the choice between viewing thermal images as either black hot or white hot is completely up to user preference, each has its own strengths. In general, white hot works best for spotting human and animal targets because the heat they generate tends to make them "glow" and stand out from the environment. In contrast, black hot works best for navigation and scanning a scene because it displays the details of the environment much better. The black hot image to the left was shot in total darkness, and still it is easy to see the land, water and boat structure. This information gives tactical officers a significant strategic advantage.

white hot surveillance

Thermal infrared surveillance technology can provides clues not apparent to the naked eye, with flash or flood lights, or even with traditional "night vision" image enhancement systems. The white hot image to the left was shot in complete darkness. Not only is the suspect visible, but the camera also reveals that the parked car in the background recently arrived because it is still warm. No other night vision technology can deliver this level of detailed information. One of the greatest benefits of thermal imaging technology is the ability to see and document a scene without giving away the officer's location.

border patrol

Thermal Imaging for Border Patrol

Border patrol agents need to cover vastly large areas with a limited number of officers. Protecting borders with thermal imaging increases apprehensions while decreasing strain on officers. Security Magazine reported that with a jurisdiction of 10,000 square miles, the Pima County Sheriff's Department acquired thermal imaging technology. The first four nights, officers returned with suspects and their drug-filled backpacks every night. The thermal imagers allow surveillance officers to overcome one of their greatest obstacles, total darkness. Man sized targets can be spotted over a half a mile away and are also visible in the glare of bright day light. Click here to read the full Security Magazine report.

How Law Enforcement Agencies Use Thermal Imaging Technology:

  • Fugitive Searches: Find anyone hidden in foliage any time of day without giving away the officer's position
  • Routine Patrols: See in the dark and find discarded evidence which retains the heat of the suspect after it has been dropped
  • Tactical Support: Scout scenes before deploying officers and give snipers the ability to make positive facial identification
  • Contraband Detection: Find hidden compartments in vehicles and structures with no physical contact
  • Perimeter Surveillance: Find and track hidden individuals, even if they know a camera is present
  • Search and Rescue: Find stranded fire victims, avalanche survivors, lost hikers, and plane crash victims, even if they are non- responsive

Thermal Imaging Grant Opportunities for Law Enforcement

Law enforcement agencies are continually asked to do more with less, leaving them with fewer financial resources to fund programs and acquire critical equipment. As a result, many agencies seek grant funds to supplement their budgets and achieve their goals.


Below is a list of grant source links for law enforcement agencies. Since the federal government provides a majority of grant funds, most of the links below will refer you to federal grant resources. However, some law enforcement agencies have been successful at receiving grants from other sources such as corporations or private foundations.


Edward Byrne Memorial Competitive Grant Program

Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP)

Commercial Equipment Direct Assistance Program (CEDAP)

Assistance to Rural Law Enforcement to combat Crime and Drugs Competitive Grant Program

Correctional Facilities on Tribal Lands Grant Program

Combating Criminal Narcotics Activity Stemming from the Southern Border of the U.S. Competitive Grant Program