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Taking Aim

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Shining laser pointers into apartment  windows is becoming a growing hazard in the  City.

“I think someone’s pointing a scope at me,” a near hysterical voice screamed into the phone that I recognized as that of my friend who lives in a co-op on the Upper West Side.  “I mean I know I have enemies, but I didn’t think any of them would try to do me in.”

“You must be watching too many episodes of CSI,” I didn’t take her seriously at first.

“Looks like it’s coming from the guy in the apartment across the courtyard. He thinks I’m stealing his underpants from the dryer.  Maybe this is his revenge.”

“Are you sure?” I asked but got no answer, the sudden silence putting me in a panic that maybe he’d hit his target.

After a few tense moments, my friend returned to the phone.

 “I took a closer look,” I was just relieved to hear her voice. “It wasn’t a scope, but a laser pointer, one of those with the spooky green light. What kind of twisted prank is that?”

Just a few weeks ago, we had a laser incident in my own building.  And as lasers get cheaper and are readily available online in ever increasing strengths it’s becoming a bigger problem. One online laser reviewer confirmed the trend, “You can use it to point at stars, or slightly less bored, or annoy neighbors through your apartment window.  It’s VERY fun, but don’t get caught doing it.”

What happens if you do?

“Sure, you can call the police,” I told my friend whose anxiety had turned to anger.  But it’s not clear that even if they catch the guy he committed any actionable offense.”

“How can that be?”

New York City Law makes it illegal for anyone to direct light from a laser pointer into a public place, which includes the halls, lobby and common areas of apartment buildings, but NOT any room or apartment designed for actual residence.”

“That’s ridiculous, people are protected in public areas, but not the sanctity of their own home?”

“That’s the law – doesn’t mean another law might not be applicable, especially if you were hurt — thank God, you weren’t — because lasers can cause eye damage, and if sufficiently powerful do other bad things.”

Efforts have been afoot for several years to pass federal legislation that would make it a crime to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft, but in the interim prosecutors have relied on The Patriot Act and other laws to win convictions, mostly against those who directed handheld lasers at airplane cockpits or law enforcement personnel.

The number of arrests for such misuse of laser pointers is rapidly increasing, as is the number of states passing laws to deal with the problem. But for now, as far as I can tell, none of them expressly prohibit taking aim at apartment residents.

Until things change, which they will if this becomes an epidemic, you can take self help and knock on the guy’s door and give him a piece of your mind, assuming you don’t think he’s dangerous..  Better yet, get the board or the managing agent to do the dirty work and write an admonishing letters to the culprit.  Who knows, if shining lasers through apartment windows really catches on, it could become the latest form of Objectionable Conduct subjecting offenders to possible eviction from their own apartments.  Now that’s a deterrent.

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