Citing a massive increase in reports of illegal flashing of lasers toward aircraft, the FBI said Tuesday it would expand a program that offers a $10,000 reward for information leading to arrests in connection with the "dangerous and irresponsible" incidents.
Reports of people pointing lasers at aircraft have ballooned nationwide, jumping from 384 in 2006 to 3,960 in 2013, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Aware of that increase and the danger posed to pilots and travelers by lasers, the FBI began offering rewards for information leading to arrests in the 12 cities that frequently saw the most incidents.
Los Angeles and Sacramento were both involved in that February pilot program, which lasted for 60 days, but federal officials said Tuesday they needed to address the problem on a national scale.
"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," Joseph Campbell, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, said in a news release. "We hope to build on our success through this national campaign in an effort to reduce the overall threat."
The rewards will be available for the next 90 days, the FBI said. Those convicted of pointing a laser at an aircraft could face up to five years in federal prison, said Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Los Angeles office.
California often leads the country in reports of flashing lasers at aircraft, Eimiller said. Federal records also show the number of reported incidents have increased in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Jose, San Diego and Oakland from 2011 to 2013.
Eimiller said the reward, and recent successful prosecutions, could help reduce the number of incidents. This year, a 31-year-old Boyle Heights man appeared in court to answer charges that he flashed a laser at a Los Angeles County sheriff's helicopter in November. A Colorado man pleaded guilty to a similar crime last year.
Nationwide, the FBI investigated 152 reported laser incidents involving aircraft in 2012 and 2013. The agency took enforcement action against suspects in 96 of those cases.
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