LazerBy Tamas Mondovics and Halie LeSavage

A common hand-held laser pointer can be a useful tool, but at a recent press conference hosted by the FBI’s Tampa Division revealed, the misuse of such a seemingly harmless gadget can land people in prison, coupled with a hefty fine.

According to Paul Wysopal, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Tampa Division, intentionally pointing a laser at an aircraft  or “lasing” presents danger to pilots, passengers and those on the ground, and is now a federal violation.

“Since 2005, the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began tracking laser strikes which shows more than 1,100 percent increase in the deliberate targeting of aircraft by people with handheld lasers,” Wysopal said.

In 2013 alone, 3,960 laser strikes were reported in the country, (238 occurred in Florida) resulting in 141 arrests, 107 prosecutions and 84 convictions nationwide. The penalties associated with lasing also merit careful attention, which was emphasized by US Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, Lee Bentley.

“Pointing a laser at an aircraft can create tremendous problems to passengers on the flight, and others,” Bentley said. “We are willing to prosecute this issue to the full extent of the law, regardless of the person’s intent of causing harm or not.”

Tampa Bay area resident Mark Jones was arrested and charged with Misuse of a Laser Light Device after he pointed a green laser light at a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office helicopter that was flying over the area of Pinecrest Rd. and Livingston Ave. in search of a missing person. FBI officials said that if convicted, a person charged with pointing a laser at an aircraft can face five years in prison with $250,000 fine.

To help educate the public about the dangers, the FBI announced the launch of a national campaign, including offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest of any individual who aims a laser at an aircraft. The reward is available for 90 days in all 56 FBI field offices.

Officials said there is no legislation to completely outlaw laser pointers as they have a legitimate purpose. Campaign outreach efforts include digital billboards, radio public service announcements, video, social media, a presence on and partner websites.

“I can’t stress enough how dangerous and irresponsible it is to point a laser at an aircraft,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

Anyone with information about a lasing incident, or who sees someone pointing a laser at an aircraft, is urged to call the local FBI field office or dial 911.

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