Even in the cover of darkness, pilots can pinpoint someone aiming a laser at an aircraft.
"It completely floods out the aircraft whether it's green or red light and it impairs the pilot's ability to safely maneuver the helicopter," according to Craig Evans, a Tactical Flight Officer for the San Diego police ABLE unit.
Just last week, Evans and his pilot were flying over Mission Valley when he saw a green beam of light coming from the ground.
“It blinded me for a second until we put our night vision goggles on," said Evans.
With the goggles on, Evans and his pilot immediately began looking for person holding the laser. The heat source from the suspect’s body could be spotted immediately. Evans and his pilot directed officers to the suspect’s location. In just minutes, officers arrested an 18-year old suspect.
"He told the officers he was shooting the laser to see if we would chase him,” said Evans.
An East County man is paying the price for pointing a laser at a San Diego police helicopter. Timothy Allen, 39, pleaded guilty to pointing a green laser at a police chopper in November. On Monday, a judge sentenced Allen to eight months in prison.
Prosecutors say laser strikes can lead to air disasters because they can temporarily blind pilots, including ones who fly commercial airliners.
The glare from a laser can make it impossible for a pilot to see the runway during landing.
"You could cause a catastrophic incident just because you think it's funny," Evans said.
"Laser strikes may seem harmless, but pilots take them very seriously,"said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. She hopes Allen will serve as an example so others don't do the same.
Prosecutors also say pilots at Lindbergh field have been targeted by laser pointers. Many are unaware that pointing a laser at a commercial airliner is a federal crime.