Lasers increasingly endanger aircraft, public

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Laser pointers increasingly are shining up at police helicopters or other aircraft in the skies above Kansas City.

Investigators said this dangerous crime is becoming more common than many people realize.

Just last month, police arrested a woman on the city's east side after she shined a laser into the eyes of a police helicopter pilot, affecting his vision and temporarily endangering his ability to fly.

"This has happened with Kansas City's police helicopter, but we also have seen this with commercial aircraft taking off and landing at MCI, with hundreds of passengers" said Thomas Relford, assistant special agent in charge of Kansas City's FBI field office. "It's also happened with emergency helicopters, Lifeflight, transporting the injured."

It is a federal crime to point a laser at an aircraft because it puts public safety in danger if a pilot becomes disoriented and can longer control the aircraft.

Last year alone, the FBI said there were 110 cases of lasers targeting aircraft in the skies above the metro area. Most happen between midnight and 7 a.m.

And unlike the incident last month involving the police helicopter, for most pilots it can be very difficult to track the source of the laser beam.

"We were able to apprehend the offender," Sgt. Jack Becchina, a police spokesman, said. "The pilot was able to use a GPS interface in the helicopter. They pinned it down to a specific address. They knew exactly where it was coming from. They are able to do that in most cases. They were able to have an officer on the ground respond very quickly and take the person into custody."

That woman has yet to be charged in federal court. But in another case two years ago, a judge sentenced Jordan Clarence Rogers, 26, of Kansas City, to three years in prison without parole for aiming a laser beam into Kansas City's police helicopter while it was flying over a neighborhood. The green beam caused eye strain that lasted for hours to one of the pilots.

Since 2015, the FBI said there have been about 7,000 cases a year nationwide of lasers targeting aircraft.

The government said it's serious about prosecuting anyone who puts pilots and the traveling public in danger.