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Arizona: Pilots will seek to upgrade laser pointing penalty to felony

In April 2014, a new law in Arizona made it a Class One misdemeanor to point a laser at an aircraft. However, the Arizona Police Association and other law enforcement groups want to increase the penalty, to make it a felony, when the legislative session starts again in January 2015.

The first draft of the April 2014 law called for a Class Five felony to “knowingly or intentionally” aim a laser towards an aircraft. But there was concern among legislators that juveniles could end up with a felony record. The bill passed once the penalty was reduced to a Class One misdemeanor.

In a September 22 2014 story, reporter Emilie Eaton recounted Arizona’s experience. FAA-reported incidents in the state rose from 138 in 2010, to 202 in 2013. One police pilot interviewed said that he had been hit by lasers over 100 times, during a 22 year career. The pilot, Chris Potter, said he had permanent damage from a laser strike: “It literally felt like I got punched in my eye and there was a piece of debris, like a piece of glass in my eye.”

Another pilot quoted, Pima County Sheriff’s Department deputy Chris Janes, said he has has between 12 and 24 laser strikes from 2007 to 2014: “I have not received any eye damage. But I’ve had headaches afterward. I’ve had eye discomfort for several days afterward.”

From Cronkite News, via the Tucson Sentinel

US: UPDATED - Arizona law adds penalties for aiming at aircraft

A law signed April 30 2014 by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer makes it illegal to aim a laser pointer at an occupied aircraft. A violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

In addition, if the pilot is unable to safely operate the aircraft, or if anyone onboard has a serious physical injury, the act becomes an assault. Apparently, under Arizona law, an “assault” would add to the seriousness of a Class 1 misdemeanor (possibly increasing the jail term and/or fine), but would not put it into another category such as a felony. (For more details, see this discussion and this page.)

House Bill 2164 was introduced January 13 2014. It amended existing Arizona statute Section 12-1213, which prohibited aiming a laser pointer at a peace officer. HB 2164 added a prohibition on aiming at an occupied aircraft.
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US: UPDATED - Arizona bill to make aiming a laser at aircraft a felony

A bill will be introduced January 13 2014 by Arizona Representative Ethan Orr, making it a felony to point a laser at an aircraft. It would apply to all aircraft, including passenger planes and helicopters.

The Tucson Police Department had about 50 lasing incidents in 2013; the perpetrator was caught in most of the cases. But there was little prosecution.

Orr says the bill is needed because “there’s really no punishment. The county prosecutor, because it's not at a felony status, doesn't go after them. And so literally, you get a ticket and nothing happens. But you're endangering lives."

Orr is working with Tucson police pilot Chris Potter, who says he has been hit by a laser pointer about 100 times in his career. Potter says a laser pointer permanently damaged his right eye around 2011.

According to News 4 Tucson, “the FBI will launch a public awareness campaign about the issue next month.” It was not clear if this was an Arizona-area initiative or nationwide.

From News 4 Tucson

UPDATED - February 4 2014: The Arizona House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of increasing the penalty for persons who point lasers at aircraft. HB 2164 would make it a Class 5 felony, with a presumptive sentence of 18 months in prison, to knowingly or intentionally point a laser at an occupied aircraft. And the penalty would go to 30 months if the act disables the pilot or causes serious physical injury to anyone on board. The legislator who introduced the bill, Ethan Orr, is considering reducing the penalty slightly, to a Class 6 felony, when it goes to the full House. Prosecutors could reduce the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor when appropriate. Orr said this might be the case for youths so that a single mistake would not result in a felony record. From KWST.com. A related article at AZCentral.com includes comments from LaserPointerSafety.com’s Patrick Murphy on the issue.

UPDATE 2 - May 1 2014: The bill was eventually amended to make the act of aiming at an aircraft a Class 1 misdemeanor. The act became an assault if the pilot was unable to safely operate the aircraft or if anyone onboard suffered a serious physical injury. The amended version passed both legislative bodies and was sent to Governor Jan Brewer, who signed it on April 30 2014. From the Arizona State Legislature legislative history of HB2164.

UPDATE 3 - September 23 2014: The Arizona Police Association and other law enforcement groups want to increase the penalty to a felony. They hope to introduce a measure when the legislature re-convenes in January 2015.

US: Tucson police pilot says he has permanent retinal damage from laser exposure

A pilot for the Tucson Police Department, Chris Potter, told KVOA News on November 21 2013 that he has permanent retinal damage from an incident that occurred “a couple of years ago”. He said ‘The laser beam came through the window on my right side, penetrated my right eye ... damaged my retina.”

The statement came as hundreds of Arizona law enforcement pilots attended a safety seminar in Tucson focusing on laser beam incidents. In 2012 in Tucson alone, the police department’s air unit had “close to 50 incidents”, according to Potter. As of November 2013, Phoenix was the top U.S. city for laser incidents.

From KVOA News