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FBI offering reward to curb laser strikes on aircraft in Arizona

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PHOENIX – While piloting a police helicopter just 500 feet above Tucson, Chris Potter was struck with a brilliant green laser through the right window, temporarily blinding his right eye.

“Had the laser also contacted my left eye and created the same incident in my left eye, there would not have been a pilot able to pilot that aircraft back to the hangar,” he said.

Saying that lasers endanger pilots and citing nearly 4,000 such incidents last year across the U.S., the FBI, joined by Arizona police, announced a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of any individual who aims a laser at an aircraft.

Lasers have grown more powerful and more affordable in recent years. Their beams, which are tiny close up, can be inches across at longer distances.

Citing Potter’s experience, State Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, authored a bill this session that would make pointing a laser at an aircraft a felony.

“The FBI and our law enforcement partners are committed to locating and arresting individuals who violate the law, aiming lasers at aircraft, putting innocent people in harm’s way,” said Douglas G. Price, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Phoenix Division.

The reward is being offered by 12 FBI offices across the country based on the high number of laser strikes in those areas, he said.

Phoenix Police Chief Daniel V. Garcia said his department averages two laser incidents per month on its aircraft.

“People think it’s fun and entertaining, but it’s dangerous,” he said.

Michael Dvorak, deputy police chief in Mesa, said every one of his department’s helicopter pilots has been involved in a laser incident, not only endangering those aboard but interfering with protecting public safety.

“We see it in a way that it draws great concern,” he said.