FBI offering reward in laser beam cases - Tucson News Now

FBI offering reward in laser beam cases

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

The FBI is trying to get the public to join the fight against a crime that's not only dangerous, but potentially deadly.

Agents say the Tucson area leads the nation for arrests of people who shine laser pointers at aircraft.

Tucson Police helicopter pilots have seen their share of laser attacks.

A hand-held laser pointed into the cockpit from the ground can blind the pilot, at least temporarily.

It also can cause permanent damage to anyone the laser hits.

The FBI is offering up to $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest of anyone who aims a laser at an aircraft.

The FBI says some pilots say a laser attack is like a powerful camera flash going off in a pitch black car at night.

It puts the pilots and everyone else in the aircraft in danger.

It also endangers people on the ground, should there be a crash.

The Tucson Police helicopters often fly about 500 feet off the ground.

That means a blinded pilot needs to get his bearings quickly because he is only about eight seconds from the ground.

The FBI tried out the reward program earlier this year in Arizona and a few other places.

The agency says that it worked, reducing the number of reported laser incidents by almost 20%.

The FBI says another reason it's continuing and expanding the reward program is that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of laser incidents in recent years.

You don't have to tell one Tucson Police helicopter pilot about the dangers of lasers.

He has lived it.

In fact, someone with a laser damaged officer Chris Potter's right eye, three-and-a-half years ago.

"The effects that lasers have on me as a pilot of a helicopter can range anywhere from a distraction to complete blindness. And with blindness it doesn't take long to become completely disoriented in an aircraft. And it takes just mere seconds for a pilot, especially a sole pilot of an aircraft, to lose control of that aircraft," Potter said.

In some 20 years of flying, Potter said he has been targeted with a laser about 100 times.

Knowingly pointing a laser beam at an aircraft is a federal felony, punishable by prison.

Officer Potter helped write a bill he hopes the Arizona Legislature will pass that would make it a felony under state law too.

The FBI says the reward will be available for three months.

If you have information about a laser incident or you see someone pointing a laser beam at an aircraft, call the FBI or 911.

Copyright 2014 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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