The Tucson Police Department first used helicopters to patrol Tucson in 1972.

As if the inherent danger of flying weren’t enough, helicopter crews face a threat today that was unimagined then--cheap, easily acquired hand-held lasers aimed at the airborne officers.

“It literally felt like I got punched in my eye,” said Officer Chris Potter, a TPD pilot and victim of laser strikes. “It doesn’t take that long when you’re airborne to get into some kind of spatial disorientation or where you’re losing control of the flight and there’s a fatal accident because of it.”

Aiming a laser at an aircraft, any aircraft, is a felony.

The Air Support unit of the Tucson Police Department last year responded to more than 12,000 calls and participated in more than 700 arrests. Last year as well, the Tucson Police Department reported experiencing 38 laser strikes on its helicopters.

This year, the number is on pace to more than double that.