Why do Americans hold their torches in an overhand way ?

Is there a particular reason why Americans, (especially police officers, in films at least), hold their torches in an overhand position?
It seems quite uncomfortable; I have never seen anyone in the UK hold a torch like that, we seem to align our thumbs along the top with the torch held out in front of us..

Anyway this observation is only based on films that I have watched so it might not actually be the case; but I can't help thinking about it when it happens during a film.
Help me to let it go...

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shadekat7 years ago
Surefire flashlights are quite a brand, and my search for hard reference material instead of what I know just from using one lead me to their site.  They have a good listing of different techniques used with lights to include the "FBI Technique" which is what you are referring to.  Their site answers this best IMHO.


Look a little past half way on this page for that specific technique.  

Since you are referring to officers in films specifically, I would make an educated guess that movie directors and actors use that as a very visible way of showing that the characters are well trained, it's an easy differentiation to pick out as opposed to the usual image of a buffoon security guard in a museum who just holds it out front and waves it from side to side.  Not saying either technique or any technique means such, but that it's rather stereotypical in movies, evoking the "aura" of such for the big screen.

Having some training in law enforcement I have to say that seandogue's answer is mostly the reason.  Useing the Flashlight in the overhand position gives the officer an advantage by having a one+ foot steel, weighted weapon in his hand.  And if you hit someone with it you want to hit with the back end of the flashlight not with lightbulb end.  It dosen't do a lot of good to hit someone with your light and then break the bulb and be in the dark.  It can be held in such a way as to be seen as non threatning, and it allows the use of the firearm with a light sorce pointing towards what you want to shoot.  Try it yourself and see which way holding it and shooting a gun, or even just swinging at a target, feels more natural. 
proxiesguy10 months ago

Thanks everyone for answers


proxiesguy10 months ago
MarilynneR1 year ago

Americans hold their flashlights in whatever manner is convenient for the task at hand. For a right handed person, using your left arm up - thumb down - to hold your flashlight, allows you to add a hand held gun (with your right hand) directly underneath your left hand, and the light will more easily guide your shot. But normally, other than for highly suspicious events, flashlights are not for target assist, but simply a light source. We carry them in either hand, thumb side up. Large magnum flashlights are definitely a great form of club type protection though, as many security guards can attest.

I'm an American and I've never seen anyone hold a flashlight in that overhand TV/Movie cop way. But in the movies they ALWAYS hold it up by their face, overhand. To me it looks awkward and phony. But what do I know? My experience with 'electric torches' only comes from thousands of hours camping, not law enforcement.

7ofclubs7 years ago
If you're asking about FLASHLIGHTS I can answer that one.

I spent 26 years in the military and you want your FLASHLIGHT to point in the direction you are pointing your weapon. What's the use of carrying a weapon into a darkened area and pointing your FLASHLIGHT in one direction and your weapon in the other direction? You can't see to shoot.

If you hold your FLASHLIGHT in the as in the first picture its very easy to hold over the top of your weapon so that its pointing in the same direction as your weapon. Another way to do it is to hold your FLASHLIGHT next to your face, about eye level, so that it forces you to light what you are looking at. I still hold my FLASHLIGHT in picture one out of habit.

As for the comments about FLASHLIGHT or TORCH, both names are wrong. Its not a torch and my flashlight doesn't flash. I suggest we call it an Incandescent illuminating device or IID. :)
thevoid7 years ago

Acctualy we don't really do that alot mostly we hold it the regular way. It just like that in the movies mostly

ddreelin7 years ago
The one fact is it keeps it away from you Body the other reason is it becomes another source of protection. Most officers and security guards use a five cell Max Light torch made of Machined Aluminum. the overhand method allows you to use it as a batton.
texdanm7 years ago
If you hold a flashlight out in front of your body in Texas that is an invitation to get SHOT! I always hold it either high and out to the side or low and to the side. In my other hand is a handgun or pistol gripped long arm. I also don't paint a target on my back. Guess where my first shot is going to go if the shooting starts? You guessed it... right at the light that fool is holding in front of himself. I understand that this isn't something you have to think about but we do. In Texas you have the right to defend yourself, your family and property with lethal force. I don't even HAVE a key for my doors. I never lock them. It is all about what you are used to.
jmgardner7 years ago
In real life police officers hold the flashlight with a gun DZaidle mentioned so that the beam spreads the most amount of its light over where the gun would fire, while allowing the non-firing hand to help steady the weapon.

In film and TV however, the advantage to the "overhand" technique, (when not trying to look "authentic")  is that you can then get a tighter closeup on the actor's face while still showing the flashlight since it is up around their face instead of down around their waist.
DZaidle7 years ago
A very important element missing from the answers thus far provided is that this flashlight hold facilitates the "Harries Technique" of holding a flashlight AND quickly deploying/aiming a handgun with a two-hand grip. See here for an illustration: www.firearmstactical.com/images/imagea29.pdd.jpg  
icerdc37 years ago
 holding a light thumbs down is a tactical practice mostly used by law enforcement and rescue personnel due to the fact that most of the lights that are used in these fields have either, a rotating bezel or a momentary switch at the rear of the light for turning it on, and therefore holding the light any other way would not only prove cumbersome but futile
cdlancs7 years ago
I'm English and always hold mine the 'American' way when walkin my dog late at night.  That way you can use it to clobber any idiots looking for trouble!  Works best with the larger Maglites.
Honhenheim7 years ago
I hold my flashlight both ways, reason?
1)overhand way cause I can quickly move it to where I need it.
2)underhand way when I am walking(easier and you don't get stared at from passer-bys for using overhand down the road not to mention easier to lower when a car goes by so you don't blind them and have a chance to get hit.)

And also I know that Law Enforcement uses it Overhand for a club(which they can't do anymore from where I am from, "Police Brutality" They now taser you instead....) And they can also hold the flashlight across their chest and place their firearm over that arm with the light to make it easier to steady the aim/more better accuracy and know where they are shooting at. 

This is sort of what they have to use now instead of the longer Mag-lite ones they used to use for clubbing;
jtobako7 years ago
Key words are 'police officer'.  First, you hold the flashlight so someone in the shadows can't tell exactly where you are to shoot at you or jump you.  Second, the 'common' flashlight is a 4 or 6 D cell 'mag-light' which can easily double as a decent club-you use the back (unlit) end, thereby saving the bulb end from breaking and temporarily blinding the person being struck by flashing the light away from them.  Third, a higher beam (forced by the grip) shines over more obstacles such as cars, picnic tables, fences, garbage cans, ect.

There may be an advantage in leverage if someone grabs at the flashlight, as well.
And standard issue flashlights that cops use are designed with this in mind ,   take a look thru this catalogue www.brigadequartermaster.com and read th' spec's fer th' "tactical" lights they sell !
jtp1397 years ago
i've also seen cops use it this way so they can use their gun arm resting on top of the light arm
FriendOfHumanity (author)  jtp1397 years ago
 Ah yes, that would make sense.
hear that, we are rebels.
because americans are rebels!
framistan7 years ago
What you see in the films is make-believe.  I have never seen anyone hold a flashlight the"American" way you describe.  I use my flashlight (torch) to go camping or fix a television.  Not to konk gunslingers on the head.  I wish Hollywood would stop making so many violent movies!
paganwonder7 years ago
You can't believe everything you see in movies-  drama is bigger than life.  That being said I rarely hold a torch with thumb under- it tends to shine the beam in others' eyes- blinding them. Very rude.  If you are a cop and you want someone at a disadvantage or to intimidate them then the thumb under hold would work very well.
Iono. Why do Brits ask silly questions? :D
Because americans Made all the silly answers
Burf7 years ago
All of the answers you've gotten thus far are correct. But one that isn't mentioned is, that by holding the flashlight with the thumb on bottom, the natural position directs the beam downwards where you normally would want illumination, especially when walking. The thumb on top position directs the beam upwards forcing you to either lower your arm or bend your wrist in less than comfortable position.
keydogstony7 years ago
Well I guess I'm British then. Never knew. :)
Re-design7 years ago
The only time i've seen this and I live in the US, is when the holder is trying to not get shot.

Holding it this way moves the source of the light away from your body and anyone shooting at you would have a hard time hitting you this way.

Holding it offset from your eyes also makes is easier to see sometimes.
FriendOfHumanity (author)  Re-design7 years ago
 Thanks for your reply.
Having a lot of time on my hands I just mimed your answer.
I'm not saying that this is right but...
It seems to me that if someone were to shoot at my torch, I would rather have it at hip level than head level.
Also, when the shooting begins; in an overhand position I can only move my torch about a foot away from myself; in the underhand position I can move it a whole arm's length away.

i hate myself for sounding so picky; it's just that i never want my brain to question this while watching a film again.

If you shine the torch UK style, you could get dazzled by a reflective surface.

It also means that you do not dazzle people quite so much, since they do not have to look along the beam to see you.