Reserved for the Mayor

Laser Pointer Safety Ordinance Protects Rights, Promotes Public Safety

by Dearborn (MI) Mayor Michael A. Guido

Nearly 100,000 people live in the hometown of Henry Ford. Millions more come to our city each year to work, shop, attend college, to enjoy a vibrant night life and our world-renown historic sites and museums. Thanks to an innovative new ordinance banning the misuse of laser pointers, our city has taken yet another step in enhancing public safety for everyone who lives, works and visits Dearborn.

As Mayor of this wonderful city, I share the pride of my fellow Dearbornites that our community remains a trendsetter when it comes to developing policies to address public safety concerns. This new ordinance makes us one of just two cities in the nation to have created a law prohibiting mishandling of these popular -- but potentially dangerous -- devices.

Dearborn's new ordinance respects and protects the rights of those who use laser pointers for legitimate purposes -- such as for business presentations --while prohibiting their being used to harass, annoy or injure. The need for such a ban is, unfortunately, becoming increasingly obvious.

Once an expensive tool found only in the briefcases of corporate executives, laser pointers today are available everywhere from pharmacies to party stores to gas stations for under $20.

I became concerned after incidents occurred where laser pointers were being aimed at the eyes of pets, at motorists using the City's roads, as well as at police officers. Police and drivers have testified that laser beams have caused traffic accidents, and numerous other close calls.

Dearborn police officers, meanwhile, are concerned because a laser pointer beam looks very much like the beam created by laser sights available for firearms. Police officers have reported instances of the occupants of vehicles stopped for traffic offenses aiming laser pointer beams at them. This misuse of the laser pointer can lead a officer to believe that he or she is facing a potential threat to personal safety. This misunderstanding can, of course, lead to tragedy -- though thankfully it has not.

To address these concerns, the Dearborn ordinance makes it illegal for anyone to use a laser pointer to harass, annoy or injure any person or animal. It's important to note that this law in no way impacts adults or minors who own and use a laser pointer for appropriate purposes. However, the ordinance does prohibit any minor from possessing a laser pointer at all, unless he or she can prove it's for a legitimate purpose, such as a presentation.

Those convicted of violating the ordinance will be guilty of a misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

In the weeks since it took effect, Dearborn's new ordinance has become the topic of much discussion. Officials in 27 states -- representing a total of 36 cities, and five statewide organizations representing groups of cities -- have called City Hall to get copies of the ordinance.

Representatives of the cities of Cambridge, Massachusetts and Pocatello, Idaho, as well as the Pennsylvania League of Cities, congratulated Dearborn for taking the lead on an issue about which police officers and elected officials in their communities are voicing concern.

Students at Florida Coastal University School of Law were recently given a classroom assignment to draft a sample laser pointer safety ordinance for the state of Florida, using the Dearborn ordinance as a model.

And, several mayors have been kind enough to call me to say of Dearborn that our City "has taken the lead on protecting the public from the misuse of technology."

As the home of the global headquarters of the Ford Motor Company, Dearborn is a city that's accustomed to adapting to challenges and opportunities constantly presented by a rapidly changing world. Our laser pointer safety ordinance is a measured, appropriate response to the potential hazard that this new technology can, when misused, present.

Our City's crime rate is one of the lowest of southeastern Michigan cities -- and we are proud of it. However, while building an even greater Dearborn for the 21st century for everyone to enjoy, we must also strive to enhance public safety in every way possible.