Police Chief Bill Hammack said officers from his department stayed busy Wednesday night responding to calls regarding the illegal discharging of fireworks within the city limits.
In fact, he said law enforcement personnel who were on duty on Wednesday night, Independence Day, responded to so many calls that his department probably won’t be as lenient with warnings in the future as it has been.
Hammack told The Missourian on Thursday that officers responded to at least a couple dozen calls on Wednesday night regarding fireworks being set off in the city. He said that when his officers are responding to those calls, it keeps them from potentially responding to other incidents.
According to Chapter 16, Section 16-4 of the city’s code of ordinances, any individual who discharges fireworks within the city “shall be deemed guilty of an offense.” Fireworks include torpedoes, bombs, rockets, pinwheels, fire balloons, Roman candles, toy cannons or “any other fireworks of a like kind.”
The chief also has told The Missourian that usually a warning is issued for a first offense. He said this week that was the case in every incident on Wednesday as no citations were issued.
“But, it’s gotten to a point in the community where people know they’re given one free shot, so they’re abusing that,” Hammack said. “Many people said they knew they were in violation, but they knew they would first be given a warning. That’s going to cease. We’re going to change our policy. We’re going to enforce the ordinance unless the city changes it.”
It also is illegal to sell fireworks within the city limits, according to Chapter 16, Section 16-5 of the city’s code of ordinances.
According to Chapter 1, Section 1-8, individuals found guilty of using or selling fireworks within city limits can be fined up to $500 and sentenced to up to six months in jail.
Hammack said officers did not respond to the same place twice on Wednesday, but they responded to some of the same neighborhoods more than once. Officers also had a few illegal fireworks calls on Tuesday night, July 3.
“It’s disturbing the peace,” Hammack said.
The chief said he keeps a log as to who is warned each year. Some of the same individuals talked to this year were repeat offenders from previous years. Still, he said, they only got a warning this year.
“Officers at their discretion could have issued a citation,” Hammack said. “They now have been instructed to do that.”
Hammack said it especially was potentially dangerous this year to discharge fireworks because of the extremely dry weather conditions.
“It’s unlikely one would burn down a house,” he said, “but it would be pretty easy to burn a yard.”
There were no fires reported in the city limits.
“It’s against the law. People just shouldn’t it,” Hammack said. “It is illegal.”
A zero tolerance policy on fireworks in Washington did not stop several people from celebrating Independence Day with Roman candles, bottle rockets and sparklers.
Washington Police Chief Ken Hahn said his officers issued at least 15 summonses on Wednesday.
“I think some people’s mind-set is that fireworks are against the law but not on the Fourth of July,” Hahn said. “It’s illegal every day.”
He was, however, pleased with the community’s cooperation in both obeying the policy and reporting those who did not.
“For the most part the community was cooperative with our request to not shoot fireworks,” he said. “But there were a few who chose to disobey the law. There were less calls this year than in previous years but there were still plenty.”
Violators, if convicted, could spend up to 90 days in jail and/or receive a $500 fine.
No fires were reported, Hahn said.
“That was our No. 1 goal with the ban on fireworks,” he said. “No fires and so we consider the policy a success.”
Union officials didn’t say what the penalty for violating this year’s fireworks ban would be, but Union Police Lt.. Kyle Ketcher said no citations were issued.
“There might have been a warning or two, but pretty much everyone was understanding of the extremely dry conditions,” Ketcher said.
Union aldermen made it illegal to discharge fireworks on Monday night, two days before the Independence Day holiday, during a special meeting.
The ban only applied to this year.
The city last year approved an ordinance allowing fireworks in the city limits to be discharged.
At the meeting this week, Mayor Mike Livengood said the recommendation came from the state and local fire marshal.
“It’s bad out there,” Livengood said of the dry conditions.
Captain Larry Cook, assistant Pacific police chief, said officers there issued no citations Wednesday, but did respond to some calls.
“It was one of those cases where by the time an officer got there, they were unable to locate any violators,” Cook said.
— Staff Writer Evin Fritschle contributed to this story.