Thursday, July 29, 2010

Laser Pointers Being Aimed At Helicopters

OCEAN CITY -- Abuse of laser pointers in downtown Ocean City has gotten so bad that the Town Council plans to deny them to children and outlaw their use in all manner of public places.

"It really shouldn't be in the hands of children," said Police Chief Bernadette DiPino. "They really don't know what they're dealing with. It's not a toy ... We believe this will give us the tools we need to try to reduce the incidents."

DiPino told the council at Tuesday's work session that the Coast Guard and pilots of a Maryland State Police medevac helicopter already have complained that laser pointers have interfered with their operation.

Medevac pilots warned that they wouldn't attempt future landings in Ocean City if laser beams continued to be a threat, DiPino added.

State Police spokesman Greg Shipley confirmed that such an incident occurred over the weekend.

It's already a misdemeanor in Ocean City, and under state law, to shine any laser pointer on another person.

However, as the popularity of green-colored laser pointers has skyrocketed this summer, resort officials planned to tighten that law by banning their use on gathering spots like balconies, porches or patios.

Now, before the council gets a chance to make those changes, further restrictions on laser pointer abuse will be implemented. Council President Joe Mitrecic said the updated law will be passed Monday as emergency legislation.

The newly amended ordinance would make it illegal to shine lasers not just on people, but on any sort of vehicle, including cars, bikes, scooters, buses, trams, motorcycles, Segways or wheelchairs.

Proposed changes also include outlawing sales and possession of laser pointers to minors, and mandating that laser pointer vendors post conspicuous signs about the town's law while providing buyers with a written copy of the law. Violations would be punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Joey Kroart, of Boardwalk store Ocean Gallery, said he's queried customers as to whether they were cautioned by clerks when buying their laser pointers.

"We have yet to speak with someone who said that they were," he said. "In fact, one woman reacted somewhat angrily, remarking that 'they told us that that the red ones were dangerous, but that these were safe!'"

Shining laser pointers on boats or aircraft also would be punishable, according to the law.

More than 30,000 laser pointers have been sold in Ocean City this year by 23 stores, according to research by police, where they they sell for $30 to $50 each. Their reach extends into West Ocean City, where a Sunsations megastore advertises it stocks them on an outdoor electronic billboard to anyone coming in on Route 50.

Green laser pointers, more powerful than red ones popular a decade ago, shine not just a dot at a distance, but send a long green beam across the darkness.

"I was down there this weekend on the Boardwalk, and I tell you, it's like Star Wars," said Councilman Doug Cymek.

No comments: