The helicopter that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department uses to support officers on the ground goes by “Duke,” and early Tuesday morning, Duke got an eye-full.
While out in support of officers, deputies flying Duke in Santa Ana reported someone firing a laser at them from Thornton Park. The occurrence took place at about 8:35 am, and the airborne officers were quickly able to guide deputies to the location from where the laser was shined. When they arrived, an individual was taken into custody and a laser pointer was found buried nearby.
Shining a laser at someone might seem relatively harmless, but it’s actually a very serious crime. Under California Penal Code 417.26 it’s illegal to point a laser scope or laser pointer at a police officer. The charge is a misdemeanor that carries a possible sentence of up to 6 months in county jail for a first-offence, and one year in county jail for each subsequent offence.
Unfortunately for the individual mentioned above, he didn’t just point a laser at a peace officer, he pointed it at an aircraft, and that’s a far more serious crime. Since 2005, law enforcement agencies have been recording hundreds of instances each year of the misuse of laser lights and laser pointers. Generally, lasers fired by pointers and scopes is weak and not powerful enough to do any damage – unless, of course, it hits someone in the eye. If it hits just-so, laser pointers are capable of temporarily blinding someone, a fact that’s particularly dangerous if that person happens to be piloting some sort of aircraft.
As incidents of misuse of laser pointers continued to increase over the years, the federal government passed the FAA Modernization Reform Act of 2012 – specifically making it a felony to knowingly point a laser light at an aircraft. Doing so is a felony with the possible penalties of up to 5 years in federal prison, a fine, or both.