On Tuesday, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced a new program to reward those who offer information about intentional laser pointer attacks on aircraft in flight. The federal police agency is offering up to $10,000 if the information given leads to an arrest of suspects who have aiming the device at an aircraft.
The act of pointing a laser at aircraft is presently punishable by up to five years in jail and an $11,000 fine if convicted. According to the press release about the reward program it is offering, FBI statistics indicate that in 2013, there were 3,960 such laser strikes reported. The FBI in conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have been tracking the number of incidents aimed at aircraft since 2005.
The devices can be purchased easily, cheaply and with no restrictions. Some discount stores offer them for as little as 99¢.
“Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a serious matter and a violation of federal law,” Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, stated in the campaign’s opening material.
In a video titled “Laser Pointer Leads to Arrest” which was uploaded on September 26, 2011, to the FBI’s YouTube channel, a person is videotaped pointing a laser into the cockpit of a police helicopter 2.4 miles away as it circles the suspect. The footage, which was shot from the same aircraft, shows a bright green light filling and blinding the camera’s view. Alternately yet from the same aircraft, an Infra-Red (IR) camera tracks the man as he moves around a house, into the street and around a vehicle in apparent attempts to evade police on the ground.
The suspect was quickly apprehended by officers on the ground in the approximately two-and-a-half minute video. The video’s audio tracks did not indicate if the suspect had a laser pointer in his possession when arrested.
While lasers do not harm the aircraft, pilots blinded by laser strikes have been reported.
In one recent incident reported on the Web site of TV station KTLA, police helicopter pilot, Lt. Steve Robertson of the Glendale Police Department was taken to a nearby hospital to have the top layers of his eyeballs scraped after an attack. He told of his pain at a press conference held by the FBI at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) the day the campaign was launched.
The FAA has stated that since December, 2013, there have been no fewer than 35 pilots who required medical assistance after such attacks.
The FBI has at times employed sophisticated campaigns to catch suspects who have “lased” aircraft. On a website about laser pointer safety, it was reported that a Portland, Oregon man was arrested in October, 2013, for apparently carried out the act at least 25 times.
According to a story in the online news magazine Time, the FBI stated that it was unaware of any laser pointer incidents that caused aircraft to crash.
Nevertheless, reports of the act appear to be on the rise in coastal cities. Some of the cities with the most reports, according to the FBI, are Portland, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
By Randall Fleming