Suspect Arrested After Laser Light Impedes Helicopter Search for Gunman in Police Shooting
2011-02-16 · By Editor
Saturday night, just after 9 p.m., officers from the Long Beach Police Department arrested a woman in the 1500 block of East 7th Street for allegedly aiming a laser at the LBPD helicopter and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department helicopter.
The laser, which can blind pilots and lead to permanent eye damage, caused police to prematurely end air support during a search for the gunman suspected of shooting at two detectives. It is a felony to discharge a laser at an aircraft.
On the evening of Saturday, January 29, 2011, helicopters were called in to assist in an intensive investigation after two on-duty Long Beach Police gang detectives were fired upon by an unknown number of suspects in a vehicle. Police officers immediately conducted an extensive search for multiple armed and dangerous suspects throughout the neighborhood.
As the police helicopter aided in the search of this densely populated area, the officers inside it reported that someone was pointing a laser beam into the cockpit. When the helicopter had to break to refuel, the LASD helicopter, which sometimes provides mutual assistance in critical incidents, temporarily took over air search and also was targeted by the laser. When LBPD Air Support returned to the scene, the laser resumed, making it impossible for the pilots to continue their assistance in the search much longer. By blinding the operators of aircraft, the act of pointing a laser at an aircraft not only endangers its occupants, but also the community below, putting many lives at risk.
Officers on the ground immediately responded to the location where the light originated from, and made contact with the resident inside who was identified and released. A laser beam was recovered, and officers returned to their search to locate the suspects who fired on the detectives earlier.
When officers returned to the residence on February 5, 2011, they arrested 34-year-old Long Beach resident Kelly Ann Smith. On Monday, February 14, 2011, the District Attorney charged her with two felony counts of discharging a laser at an aircraft.
Although it is not illegal to point a laser beam into the sky, it is illegal to point a laser at aircraft in many cities and states. In California, the penalty can be up to three years in prison and a $2,000 fine.
Even though a laser projects a small, millimeter-sized dot close up, at longer distances the beam can be many inches across. When the beam hits the windscreen of a cockpit, or the bubble of a helicopter, imperfections in the glass spread the light out even more creating a disorienting flash throughout the cockpit’s interior, distracting pilots and impairing their vision. (Laserpointersafety.com offers this explanation of the dangers of pointing lasers into the sky.)
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, reported incidents of people flashing aircraft with lasers is on the rise, increasing from about 300 in 2005 to some 1,500 in 2009.
Operators of aircraft traveling over Long Beach can report incidents to police by calling 9-1-1. Anyone with any information regarding this particular case, or other suspects who may be engaging in this activity is asked to report it to the Violent Crimes Detail at (562) 570-7250.