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Jun 5, 2014 1:04 AM by Sam Salzwedel

FBI: Don't point lasers at planes and choppers

TUCSON - The FBI wants people to stop pointing lasers at planes and helicopters, so the bureau is offering a $10,000 reward for a tip that leads to an arrest.

Tucson Police officer and pilot, Chris Potter, said his helicopter was hit with a laser about 3 years ago, causing permanent damage to his vision.

"I felt like I got punched in the eye and had some kind of debris, like glass or metal stuck in there," Potter said. "It was extremely painful."

Potter said police helicopters are relatively easy to hit, but they are not the only targets. Commercial airliners, with hundreds of passengers, are often struck by lasers pointers. It can also be a hazard for medical helicopters carrying vulnerable patients.

TPD pilots reported laser incidents about once a week in 2013. They caught the suspect about half the time, according to Potter. Officers would write tickets, but Arizona had no specific law against the offense. Federal charges could result in prison time, but prosecution was rare, according to Potter.

"Their judicial system is as clogged, if not more clogged than ours," Potter said. "So it is time-consuming. And I felt that it would be important for the state to address this serious behavior."

So Potter worked with State Representative Ethan Orr on an Arizona law. The bill passed, but the felony charge was removed from the language.

"The important thing was getting something on the books," Orr said. "I'm not completely happy with the bill. But we got the bill to the governor's desk. And it starts to address the problem."

Since the law is so new, Potter does not know of any cases where it has been used yet.

"It does not address the seriousness of this topic with serious consequences," he said.

Potter said he is ready to go to Phoenix and lobby for a stronger bill next legislative session.

Potter believes laser incidents have decreased about 20 percent this year because of public awareness of the issue.

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