State bill would ban pointing lasers at police officers

Lasers: professors use them, cats love them, and they can even be used to cut things
Published: Jan. 29, 2021 at 6:25 PM CST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - 2020 saw various riots and protests across the United States, including Black Lives Matter Marches, protests for Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and riots at the Capitol building in D.C.

With law enforcement at these events, some protestors found a new, dangerous way to combat police presence: laser pointers.

“During protests, particularly in Seattle and Portland, they saw people throwing things at law officers and the experimenting with lasers,” said Senator Helene Duhamel, District 32. “People can buy civilian lasers, and even those say ‘don’t use in peoples’ eyes.”

Duhamel, the public information officer for the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, was asked to bring a bill forward to make it a misdemeanor to point lasers at an officer. She said this bill is patterned off existing laws in other states.

If a laser is pointed directly into an eye, it can cause damage-- what some describe feels like a sunburn in the eye. If an officer is injured from a laser, that is already a felony.

“These are threats to law officers, whether it’s intimidation or to do real damage,” said Duhamel. “So, I think this addresses both. It just gives us another tool in our tool box to try to prevent this type of behavior.”

“The purpose of this law is to say, you show up at a protest and you start whipping laser lights across officer’s bodies, that’s a no-no,” said Captain Tony Harrison, Pennington County Sheriff’s Office. “You should not be doing that because you are only there to cause hate and discontent. This is an event, that if you hit someone wrong, intentionally or not, you can permanently blind them. There are also laser pointers that are on firearms, so it’s just a cause for concern. So, while a laser pointer by itself is not necessarily a weapon, it can be used as a weapon, especially if you shine it is someone’s face.”

While Harrison said PCSO does not have a major issue at this time with lasers, but he said, “if it happens in other places, it will happen here,” because protest tactics are often shared.

Harrison, who is a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the state’s organization supports this legislation.

“People who shine a laser light at law enforcement in their official capacity are doing it for a reason-- psychological intimidation, physical intimidation,” said Harrison. “They do it behind the cloak of darkness because they can get away with it.”

Duhamel said the bill was introduced on Tuesday, then passed unanimously out of senate judiciary committee. She thinks it will do well on the senate floor next week.

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