July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:40 PM
"Not long ago, Interim Oak Harbor City Supervisor Doug Merriman was driving in the city with his family when he noticed a dot of red light on the back of his daughter's head.As an ex-paratrooper, Merriman was startled by the beam of light, which he associates with laser scopes on highly-accurate guns.So he drove off the road and called the police.With cheap hand-held lasers pointers becoming prevalent, Police Chief Tony Barge said laser pointer or laser scope incidents have become more of a problem in the city recently.As a result, Barge has worked with City Attorney Phil Bleyhl to create a proposed new ordinance which makes it a crime to point a laser pointer, a laser scope or other devices that look like a laser at another person.Under the proposed ordinance, it would be a misdemeanor to point a laser at a civilian and a gross misdemeanor to point one at a police officer.Laser pointers are small devices designed for business or educational presentations. They emit an intense, narrow beam of red polarized light. They're often used to replace the old fashioned long sticks known as pointers.The dangers of lasers made Seattle news recently after someone pointed a beam at a King County Sheriff's Department helicopter, hurting the pilot's and another officer's eyes. They were treated at a hospital for eye irritation.Not long afterward, a Shoreline man was arrested for shining a high-intensity spotlight at the same helicopter.Barge said there's never been an incident in Oak Harbor of someone shining a laser at a police officer. But he said such an incident could be dangerous, since an officer wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a relatively harmless laser pointer and a laser scope on a rifle. In addition, lasers can also temporarily blind or distract drivers or pilots. Any laser can damage the retina if directed at someone's eye.In a case where a laser actually harms another person, Barge said the crime would be considered a felony assault.There have been several 911 reports of people shining lasers in the last few months, but without actual harm. People with laser pointers have caused problems at local movie theaters and sporting events.Barge said he didn't know of any cases of people shining lasers at Navy pilots, but several years ago there were problems with people directing spotlights at aircraft near the Navy's outlying field. He said the Navy vigorously investigates and prosecutes such cases.Bleyhl said he based the proposed ordinance on a California law. If it is passed by the council, Barge said Oak Harbor will become one of a handful of cities with laser-related laws.The proposed ordinance will go before the City Council at the Aug. 8 meeting."