Temple Police have identified a student who may have been responsible for shining a laser at a Philadelphia Police helicopter on Sept. 14.
Executive Director of Campus Safety Services Charlie Leone said the student—whose name is not being released because he or she hasn’t been arrested or charged with a crime—is currently being sent through the process of the Student Code of Conduct. He or she is being questioned because he or she admitted to shining a laser the night of the incident, Leone added.
Leone said there have been varying stories involving the incident, including the color of the student’s laser. His or her laser is red, while the pilot of the helicopter said he saw a green laser, Leone said. The case is being handled seriously by Temple Police, he added.
“It’s a high priority,” Leone said. “This is something we would use quite a bit of resources to try and investigate. We would coordinate with Philadelphia Police and, depending on the circumstances, the District Attorney … it’s no joke, that’s for sure.”
Leone said a similar incident occurred last year when a student shined a laser on the ground. A police car drove by and the beam reflected off the windshield of the car, he said.
The student was later identified and sent through the process of the Student Code of Conduct, Leone added.
The incident was the first of its kind reported at Temple, said Michael Scales, associate vice president of student affairs.
Scales said students were informed of the consequences of pointing a laser at an aircraft in a meeting with the residents of Morgan North’s 25th and 26th floors—the highest residential floors in the building—following the incident earlier this month.
In an official statement released to The Temple News, Scales said, “As with any incident involving infractions of the student Code of Conduct, the necessary referrals were made and the matter will be addressed according to the code.”
The university’s Student Code of Conduct has no statements specifically regarding laser pointers.
The FBI reported from 2005-14 there have been 17,000 laser pointer incidents involving aircraft. According to lasersafety.com, there are about between 7-14 incidents reported nationally each day. Out of those 17,000 incidents, there have only been 80 convictions.
Shining a laser at an aircraft became a federal offense under the FAA’s Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Under this act, knowingly pointing a laser at an aircraft could result in up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. According to the FBI, the FAA can enforce civil fines of $11,000 for each violation.
The harshest penalty for laser pointing was a 14-year prison sentence issued in March 2014 to 26-year-old Sergio Rodriguez after he shined a green laser pointer at a passing emergency transport helicopter near Fresno, California.
There is a program offered to alleged offenders before the trial if they agree to follow terms and conditions of probation. If the program is completed, no charges are pressed.
The issue has become more prevalent because of the power of current laser pointers on the market. Certain ones available online have a beam that can travel up to 10 miles.
Leone said the university would take different actions depending on who reports the incident.
“It really depends on who’s making the complaint, and who would be used as a witness,” he said. “Obviously on our end, it could go both ways—through the criminal justice system or through the Student Code of Conduct. So it depends on if and whenever we talk to the people involved.”
Ultimately, it’s hard to explain why people decide to shine the laser at aircraft at people in the first place, Leone added.
“It’s hard to speak for what people do,” he said. “Sometimes, people do things that just make you scratch your head.”
Jonathan Gilbert and Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 215.204.7419, or on Twitter @TheTempleNews.