April 17, 2012
When the smoke cleared after the weekend’s firework shows, only one of the several residents possessing illegal fireworks in Delaware County was charged.
In that case, about 160 different types of fireworks were found on the property, according to Delaware City Police Capt. Bruce Pijanowski.
“It was a matter of sheer volume that prompted the charge,” he said.
The other 15 residents to whom Delaware City Police Department responded were merely given a warning, according to Pijanowski.
Similar practices were observed in other areas of the county. The Sheriff’s Office reported no citations. Neither did the Powell City Police Department, although officers responded to at least eight complaint calls.
“It’s a very difficult and challenging situation,” said Powell Police Chief Gary Vest. “The offense is classified as a first-degree misdemeanor, which is a serious offense. Yet individuals buying and firing off fireworks is about as common and American as apple pie.”
Even in the case where Powell officers found a man with a stash of illegal fireworks valued at $200, no charge was filed. Instead, the police seized the fireworks.
“It’s pretty much been our practice to respond to noise complaints and to warn people that it is a violation of the law,” said Vest. “And as long as we don’t (have a reason to) go back, no one’s cited.”
The reason Vest said he is more apt to warn people rather than charge them is because enforcement across the state is inconsistent.
“It has not been an area where we’ve felt comfortable enforcing the current law,” Vest said.
The counterintuitive law does not help either, he added.
Ohio law states that people can legally buy fireworks that are illegal to discharge. Customers are to sign an affidavit agreeing to take the fireworks out of state within 48 hours of purchase.
“We know that when we have people signing that affidavit, that they’re not telling the truth,” said Ohio State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers. Flowers said he is interested in addressing this issue among state legislatures, law enforcers and the firework industry. Particularly, Flowers said he wants to know more about how other states are juggling firework restrictions, safety concerns and revenue streams.
Flowers also said he would like to discuss the inconsistent enforcement of firework laws.
Such inconsistencies are the reason why Vest said his department is more inclined to issue warnings rather than citations.
“It’s been our policy to not take an aggressive stand,” said Vest.
He said that just as the State Highway Patrol warns drivers of increased enforcement of impaired driving laws, the state should make efforts to educate the public about what firework law enforcement to expect.
“Clearly, the ignorance of the law is no excuse,” said Vest. Yet he added that enforcing a law to a strict standard without a public forewarning “loses a sense of fairness.”
Inconsistencies in enforcement may also be attributed to the rationality of the law, which law enforcers themselves question.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Pijanowski of the current restrictions. “If they’re not legal, don’t sell them.”
Pijanowski did, however, address certain safety hazards associated with the illegal fireworks.
“People buy them and they don’t think about all the things that could go wrong,” said Pijanowski. “All it takes is one bottle rocket that goes straight instead of up.”
In the meantime, “We don’t want to cite everyone for celebrating the Fourth of July,” said Pijanowski. “It’s reasonable to shut fireworks down and give a warning.”