Police pilots in danger from laser strikes - Tucson News Now

Police pilots in danger from laser strikes

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

It is a danger Tucson's officer pilots face every day they're on the job: patrolling the city from the skies. Officer pilots work closely with ground units, helping track suspects, they are the eye in the sky that's helping keep our city safe.

Some on the ground though, are not concerned about the officers' safety.  It is not just police helicopters, even medical helicopters, commercial jets, and military plans are increasingly becoming targets of those pointing laser beams at aircraft.

Jason Winsky, who is in charge of government affairs for the Tucson Police Officers Association said it was a serious and growing problem.

"Last year, in the U.S., there were 3,000 documented incidents of aircraft being struck by lasers."

Winsky said the Phoenix area was number one in the area for laser strikes, and Tucson was not far behind. Police pilots reported dealing with at least 50 to 60 laser strikes in 2013.

Veteran police officer pilot Chris Potter was manning one of the flights, when a laser pointer targeted his chopper, leaving him with permanent eye damage.

"About 2.5 years ago I was coming back to the airport when a bright green laser entered my aircraft through an open window on the right side, it burst into more than a 100 rays of blinding light, and contacted my right eye.  It left me with permanent eye damage in my right eye.  It immediately felt like someone had punched me and left a debris  like glass.  I had flash blindness in there to where I could not see,".

Officer Potter is still flying the Tucson skies, now he has dedicated his life to helping make laser strikes a felony crime in Arizona.  Potter is helping co-author a bill that would make it a class 5 Felony to point lasers at any aircraft in the sky.  This included medical helicopters, military planes, commercial jets, etc.

Tucson police Sgt. Jason Winsky was in Phoenix on Thursday for a hearing in the Judiciary House Committee.  Winsky told Tucson News Now the bill unanimously passed, and was on to the full House and Senate next for a hearing. After that it would go to the Governor to sign into law.

According to the FBI, Tucson is number one in the nation for arresting suspects accused of pointing lasers at aircraft.   Once the suspects were caught, police said there was no punishment.  They could charge the suspect with and "endangering" charge, but it was a slap on the wrist because it was not a felony.

Representative Ethan Orr's office worked with law enforcement to help craft the bill.

Winsky said there was no price tag attached to the bill, and there seemed to be no opposition so far. Winsky stressed this bill was all about safety.

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