Crime

Think it's fun to point lasers at aircraft? Police have news, and it involves handcuffs

A 31-year-old Kansas City woman faces federal criminal charges after she was arrested in May for allegedly pointing a hand-held laser at a Kansas City police helicopter.

The incident happened around 7:30 p.m. in the 700 block of Van Brunt Boulevard on May 5 and caused the pilot to become temporarily disoriented. However, the pilot quickly flipped on his night vision goggles to avoid danger.

On Friday, the FBI joined Kansas City police to raise public awareness about the dangers of citizens pointing hand-held lasers at police and commercial aircraft.

"Some people don’t take it seriously or look at it as a serious offense," said Sgt. Jake Becchina, a police spokesman. "It is a federal offense to point your laser pointer at an aircraft."

In the May incident, the pilot used a GPS interface system in the helicopter to track down where the laser was used.

"They pinned it down to a specific address," Becchina said. "They knew exactly where it was coming from. They are able to do that in most cases. They were able to have an officer on the ground respond very quickly and take the person into custody."

Patrol officers on the ground located and arrested the woman, who was inside a car with a long black cylinder-shaped laser pointer in her hand. Federal charges are pending, he said.

"The danger comes when the pilot is temporarily blinded or their vision is affected by the laser lights coming into the aircraft," Becchina said.

The laser device in that incident struck the pilot directly in the eye, which can damage. The pilot is expected to recover and resume flying.

The FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration began tracking laser strikes in 2004. Each year between 2015 and 2017, federal authorities have investigated roughly 7,000 laser strike cases.

In 2017, there were 110 cases in the Kansas City area alone. Most of those incidents happened between midnight and 7 a.m., said Thomas F. Relford, assistant special agent in charge of Kansas City's FBI field office.

Jordan Clarence Rogers was sentenced to three years in federal prison in January 2017 after he was convicted of pointing a laser at a police helicopter.

"This is a serious consequences based on when people use lasers on aircrafts," Relford said, adding that many believe they are acting innocently. "It is a public safety issue and it is against the law and we want people to be aware of that."

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