The crime: shining handheld laser pointers at airplanes.*
The reward for turning someone in: $10,000.
Over a 90-day period, the FBI will offer thousands of dollars for information leading to the arrest of anyone guilty of flashing planes or helicopters with laser pointers, or “lasing,” according to*The Associated Press.
Sgt. Dan Cunningham, a police helicopter pilot in St. Louis, said beams from small laser pointers can be seen from almost a mile away. He told the AP that his police helicopter has become a target for pointers in recent years.
“I don’t know that anybody realizes how much of an effect it has on an aircraft,” he said. “It completely blinds you.”
A pointer’s thin beam can expand to a few feet in diameter as the light travels from the ground to a targeted plane. This can cause vision problems for pilots and create dangerous situations in the air, said Capt. Sean Cassidy, first vice president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, according to*NBC News.
“If you were driving a car down a dark road and someone shines a spotlight in your face, your eyes might not be permanently damaged, but you would be seeing spots, and it would certainly make it hard to drive the car safely,” he said. “Now just imagine that in an airplane.”
The FBI's campaign is the result of a partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration, the pilots association and others. The groups hope to reduce laser attacks through digital billboards, radio public service announcements and social media.
The FBI*launched a similar 60-day program*in 12 U.S. cities in February; the same $10,000 reward was offered then, but the most recent campaign will extend the program to all 56 of the FBI’s field offices.*
Laser pointer-to-aircraft incidents have dropped by 19 percent in the 12 U.S. cities involved in February’s campaign, according to an FBI*release.
“Although our previous efforts to raise public awareness have shown early signs of success in reducing the number of laser attacks in those 12 cities, the laser threat remains a problem on a much larger scale,” said Joseph Campbell, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division.
The program also has recruited movie theaters in some parts of the country. Wehrenberg Theaters – which has cinemas in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri – will show messages detailing the dangers of “lasing” as part of movie previews.*
The theater chain is reportedly working with the National Association of Theatre Owners to expand the announcements to other parts of the country, according to the*AP.
The FBI credits February’s campaign with the March sentencing of Sergio Rodriguez of Clovis, California.*A federal jury determined that Rodriguez and girlfriend Jennifer Coleman repeatedly flashed at least one and apparently two helicopters with a laser pointer that was 13 times more powerful than what is permitted from handheld devices, according to*CBS News.
Rodriguez was convicted of attempting to interfere with the operation of an aircraft, which carries a 20-year maximum sentence and up to $250,000 in fines. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Coleman was sentenced to two years in prison on May 12, according to a*release*from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of California.
“Coleman and Rodriguez demonstrated outrageous and willful disregard for the safety of aviators … and the public,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Monica Miller said in the release.
The FBI says there have been 141 arrests, 107 prosecutions and 84 convictions related to aiming laser pointers at aircraft since 2004.
There were fewer than 300 laser attacks reported in 2005, according to the*AP. There were about 4,000 attacks in 2013, an increase of more than 1000 percent.