Lasers may get zapped

By BRIAN KELLY

Herald Writer

OAK HARBOR – It may be lights out for laser pointers in the coming month: City council members here are considering an ordinance that would outlaw the misuse of the popular gizmos.

"They do pose a threat, and they do pose a danger," councilman Bob Morrison said. "We decided we had best do something."

The proposed prohibition on lasers would make pointing one at another person a misdemeanor punishable by 90 days in jail and fines up to $1,000. Aiming a laser pointer at a police officer would be a gross misdemeanor that could earn the offender a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

State law already bans pointing lasers at police and some others.

Laser pointers can cause severe eye damage.

Similar lasers are used as sights on some guns.

The council began considering the ban, which reportedly would be the second of its kind in the state, after a laser pointer was projected at an Oak Harbor police officer.

"These guys are out there every day protecting us. We need to make sure they are protected also," Morrison said.

The targeting of the Oak Harbor officer came before the recent spate of incidents in King County where a laser pointer was aimed at a police helicopter, Morrison said.

Earlier this month, a 15-year-old Renton boy was arrested after he allegedly flashed Guardian One, the King County Sheriff’s Office helicopter, with a laser pointer.

The helicopter was also hit with a laser twice in June, and the aircraft crew was temporarily blinded in one of the incidents. A 28-year-old Shoreline man was later arrested; he reportedly told police he was angry because the helicopter was keeping him awake while it searched for a rape victim who was hiding from her attacker.

Oak Harbor would be one of the first cities in the state to adopt such restrictions. The council is expected to adopt the ban Aug. 8.

Ron Bartels, a public policy and management consultant at Municipal Research and Services Center, said only Kennewick has adopted a restriction on laser pointers. The center is a nonprofit organization of experts on government issues.

Kennewick made pointing a laser at another person a misdemeanor in January 1999.

The King County Council banned laser pointers on Metro buses in June 1999. Snohomish County has not adopted restrictions on laser pointers, said Jan Jorgensen, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.

Many cities haven’t adopted bans because the state has already outlawed aiming lasers at police officers, firefighters, pilots and bus drivers. That state law – which makes misuse of laser pointers a class C felony in some situations – was adopted in 1999, Bartels said.

"The state Legislature has stepped in and said this is a problem. Essentially it’s taken it out of the hands of cities," he said.

Once used in boardrooms and college classrooms, the red-beam machines have since dropped in price and are widely available for as little as $10 at discount stores, through mail-order catalogs, and on the Internet.

In a warning issued in late 1997, the Food and Drug Administration said the pointers can be more damaging to eyes than staring into the sun. Momentary exposure to laser pointers was also linked to temporary blindness, the FDA said.

"They’re extremely dangerous, especially to eyesight," Morrison said. "A laser with enough power can blind you permanently and can do it in a heartbeat."

You can call Herald Writer Brian Kelly at 425-339-3422 or send e-mail to

kelly@heraldnet.com.

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