Ocean City was ahead of the curve on laser pointers

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OCEAN CITY — The FBI wants to stop people from pointing lasers at aircraft, and recently launched a national campaign.

Ocean City was way ahead of them.

 “We were ahead of the curve,” said Capt. Steve Ang of the Ocean City Police Department, of the 2010 city ordinance forbidding the use or sale of laser pointers on the island. “We had some issues, and four years ago, we were proactive.”

A federal violation that officials say presents a danger to pilots, passengers and possibly people on the ground, pointing lasers at aircrafts is also a violation of a city ordinance in Ocean City.

“Merchants can’t sell them and people can’t possess them,” said Ang.

A federal law passed in 2012 made lasing aircraft punishable by up to five years in prison. The Bureau will offer up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of any individual who intentionally aims a laser at an aircraft.

 “When the FBI called to inform us about this, we informed them that we have a city ordinance,” said Ang. “While it does not eliminate the possibility of someone shining a laser pointer at an airplane, it makes it a lot less likely.”

Ang said there has only been one incident in Ocean City since the ordinance was passed nearly four years ago.

“We had several incidents in the summer of 2010,” said Ang.

The back-to-back incidents were brought to the attention of the OCPD by the U.S. Coast Guard and officials at the Atlantic City International Airport after pilots complained.

“The incidents were traced back to the Ocean City Boardwalk,” said Ang. “Most days we are on the flight path to the Atlantic City Airport, and that got us going.”

Police soon discovered that the laser pointers were readily available at numerous shops on the boardwalk, he said.

“We went to the merchants, we asked them to voluntarily take the product off the shelves,” he said. Most merchants were appropriately alarmed, he said.

“Once we explained the issue, they were very cooperative,” he said. “We don’t come to them with a request like that very often, so when we do they understand that it is something serious, a serious issue. We were not over-reaching on this, the incidents we had were potentially dangerous.”

State Sen. Jeff VanDrew proposed a statewide ban on the sale and possession of laser pointers but ran into roadblocks. City Solicitor Dottie McCrosson helped craft Ocean City’s ordinance, which was passed by City Council.

Ang said the laser problem dates back to 2005, when the FBI worked with the Federal Aviation Administration to address the issue. 

The problem was growing across the country, as more powerful lasers became easier to purchase.  From 2005 through 2013, the deliberate targeting of aircrafts by handheld lasers increased by more than 1,100 percent. 

Pilots, Ang said, can experience temporary blindness if the laser hits their eye. Airplanes could be forced to divert or make an emergency landing, potentially endangering the lives of hundreds of people.

The dramatic increase in reported laser strikes prompted the FBI to create a pilot program aimed at raising awareness on the dangers of pointing a laser at an aircraft, and the offering of a monetary reward for information that leads to an arrest.  Twelve FBI field offices throughout the country participated in this media campaign.   


Related: FBI seeks public’s assistance with identifying people who aim lasers at aircraft

City Council moves to ban laser pointers 

Man fined $1000 for use of laser pointer

Why are laser pointers sold on the Boardwalk?

High-powered laser pointers banned in OC

Coast Guard: It’s a crime to direct laser pointers at aircraft

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