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LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles police today unveiled their latest tool in the fight against crime - a flashlight powerful enough to stun suspects but too lightweight to beat them with.

The new flashlight, developed specifically for the Los Angeles Police Department and expected to be acquired by police forces around the world, replaces the heavy 33cm metal flashlights controversially used by city officers to strike a car theft suspect three years ago.

At 22cm long and weighing 295 grams, the new 7060 LED flashlight is more than 50 percent lighter than the old model, has a rugged polymer casing and produces a blindingly bright light.

"Pelican's 7060 flashlight will give our officers the upper hand in fighting crime," LAPD chief William Bratton told a news conference.

"If you shine this into someone's eyes, you will momentarily disorient them. But unlike the previous flashlight it cannot be used to inflict unintended damage or used to strike someone around the head," Bratton said.

More than 50 incidents involving Los Angeles police using flashlights as weapons have been reported since 2002.

Bratton proposed a change after June 2004 when fleeing motorist Stanley Miller was struck 11 times by an officer using his metal flashlight in an incident caught by a TV news crew and broadcast around the nation.

The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the new flashlights, which were purchased by the city for $US1 million and will be distributed to all LAPD officers starting in June.

"The LAPD's swift response shows what can happen when police seek innovative solutions to reduce misconduct. The old flashlight sent the wrong message to the community, and the new, smaller version can be a powerful symbol of the department's commitment to reform," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU in Southern California.

The flashlight was designed by Southern California company Pelican Products. Pelican CEO Lyndon Faulkner said the company had already signed contracts with other US police forces and expected to sell the flashlight around the world.

- REUTERS