Broward News

Fourteen Years in Jail for Using a Laser Pointer? Cops, FBI Are Cracking Down in Florida

Apparently, laser pointers are huge problem for both local law enforcement and the FBI. Nope, not your high school physics teacher who just realized she had a red LED light on her forehead the entire time some smart-ass was asking when the class would be "learning about lasers." Not your cat that can never catch the dot dancing wildly across the kitchen tile. Actual, legitimate agents and cops are the ones raising the issue.

On Tuesday, a 22-year-old was arrested for pointing a green laser at passing cars near Daytona Beach. When a cop, who says he was blinded by the light, arrested Walter Nevarez, the kid started crying and apologizing. Although he later recanted in an interview with the Daytona Beach News-Journal, he apparently admitted to the arresting officer that he was aiming at people's eyes. (lololol) promotes itself as "a comprehensive resource for responsible laser use." As a part of their site, they blog about people being arrested for misusing the toys/PowerPoint presentation aids. Apparently, Nevarez is just one of several people recently arrested in Florida for playing with a laser pointer. He's just the only one playing with cars too.

On June 6, a man was arrested for pointing a green laser at a Tampa Police helicopter. He told officers -- right before they also busted him for something else green -- that he was just pointing his toy at random objects. The next day, a 19-year-old was arrested in Longwood for pointing a green laser at a patrolling Seminole County Sheriff's Office helicopter.

According to a Florida statue, this is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Some places, the penalty is even stricter. Just this March, a California man was sentenced to 14 years in prison for assailing a children's hospital helicopter with an $8 laser pointer -- the longest punishment ever imposed for such a crime.

If that seems harsh, it's because agencies like the FBI view this behavior as a big public-safety issue. In February, it launched a 60-day campaign encouraging crackdowns -- even offering $10,000 rewards for anyone who could turn in someone who had intentionally aimed a laser at an airplane.

"Laser pointers are legal and certainly have legitimate uses," says George Johnson, who serves as a liaison officer with the FBI on laser issues. "Used in the wrong environment, however, they can be very dangerous."

The FBI's website says the beams from laser pointers can travel more than a mile, fill a cockpit, and blind pilots: "Those who have been subject to such attacks have described them as the equivalent of a camera flash going off in a pitch black car at night."

Last year, 11 incidents of "lasing" were reported per day, on average. The FAA says 35 pilots have experienced ongoing medical issues after their aircraft was lased.

The overarching theme is that these Floridians getting arrested -- who all seem to be teenaged boys with the exception of a few immature men -- is that they didn't know it was a crime or that the laser from an object that costs only a few bucks could travel a mile into the air and potentially cause a disaster.

The FBI is telling people not to let a prank lead to prison. No statement yet from PETA as to whether it'll be following suit with a campaign against using laser pointers to cruelly torture cats.

Send your story tips to the author, Allie Conti.

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter: @allie_conti

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.