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Man Arrested For Flashing Laser Pointer at National Guard Helicopter

Philadelphia Inquirer via YellowBrix

April 14, 2010

CAMDEN, NJ – New Jersey Air National Guard helicopter pilots have helped Camden police with day and nighttime patrols for the last eight months or so on a “routine basis,” Police Chief Scott Thomson said Tuesday night.

“They can help with lighting up an entire block, whether it’s searching for a missing child or a suspect that’s just fled from a vehicle,” Thomson said. “There’s no hiding from that helicopter.”

Thomson’s comments came after Camden police announced that a 32-year-old man was arrested and charged with flashing a laser pointer at a National Guard helicopter patrolling with police last week, officials said.

Nelson Villalobos Jr., 32, was charged with interference with transportation, a Camden police spokeswoman said. He was released with a summons.

Villalobos allegedly pointed a green laser at the helicopter on Thursday, temporarily blinding the pilot. Police on the ground located Villalobos at Alabama and Congress Roads, sitting inside a red Dodge minivan.

Villalobos, of Independence Road in Camden, allegedly told police he thought he was pointing the laser at a news helicopter. The pointer was found in the minivan’s glove compartment.

Typically, a Jet Ranger helicopter equipped with infrared capabilities, flown by an unarmed guardsman, hovers about 900 to 1,100 feet above Camden, providing aerial surveillance, Thomson said. Members of the department’s tactical-force unit fly in the helicopter, Thomson said.

The National Guard is often used in times of natural disasters to prevent looting. But the Posse Comitatus Act, passed in 1878, restricts what U.S. military forces, including the National Guard, can do to help civilian police keep the peace in most situations.

Thomson said the Jet Rangers can hit speeds of up to 110 m.p.h. and can get around the city quickly. If need be, the pilots can bring the helicopters as close as 100 feet, he said.

He said the helicopters have scanned rooftops after burglaries, dispersed large crowds by shining a light from above, and tracked people trying to hide from police at night.

He said Camden’s tactical force unit trains regularly with the guardsmen in the Jet Rangers.

Also, at times, the department’s SWAT team trains with guardsmen in Black Hawk helicopters, doing exercises such as fast-roping, a technique for descending on a thick rope, and quick deployments.

“I try to get every resource that I can into the city,” he said.

He said a New Jersey State Police helicopter also provides aerial assistance from time to time.

The department has had a relationship with the National Guard for the last 15 years or so, Thomson said. He remembers flying with guardsmen when he was a patrolman in the 1990s. Thomson said he reached out to the National Guard to complement the city’s patrols.

“They know the city. They work with well with our folks,” Thomson said. “It’s another tool that we can utilize to help provide public safety to our residents.”

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