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Enforce fireworks laws!
Most would agree that our fireworks statutes are not vigorously enforced. Let’s face it. They might as well have never been written. The standard response to a complaint is, “… our officers are very busy tonight.” One wonders, “Busy with what?”
If it explodes or flies into the air, it’s an illegal bomb. It certainly wouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes’ skills to find the war zones. There are multiple complaints to PenCom (9-1-1). Yet the chaos continues, virtually ignored.
The explosions of grenade equivalents, mortar rockets being shot up through tree canopies, and animals in misery are apparently viewed as “kids’ stuff” by our policing agencies. Flipping a verse from Matthew, “Many are called, but few choose to hear.”
Last week saw two in Clallam County take mortar rocket strikes to their faces. One lost several teeth, the other is now in critical care. No trace of a citation of any sort. One would think that assault with a deadly weapon might apply.
I challenge Clallam County police chiefs and the sheriff to make public the number of fireworks complaints, the number of fireworks responses and — most importantly — the number of fireworks citations. The discrepancies in the numbers will tell the tale.
What’s needed is an inducement for officers to respond to the use of illegal fireworks, something similar to the awards given by the State Patrol during the DUI and seatbelt “Awareness Programs.”
However, a Clallam County fireworks awareness program should have a special twist. Naturally, an officer would be rewarded for each fireworks citation, but would win an additional award based upon the quantity of illegal fireworks confiscated.
Then, on a much publicized and anticipated evening, police and fire officers would organize, oversee and then charge admission to viewing the explosion of every confiscated bomb — simultaneously. The Big Bang! The Bomb-A-Dooza! Krakatau!
Naturally, all proceeds would be split among participating agencies. With a little perseverance, we might quickly — and finally — have a July Fourth without any illegal explosions.
Editor’s note: From July 3-7, PenCom reported 37 fireworks violations with Sequim addresses.
We offered the letter to local law enforcement officals and received these responses:
The 37 calls ... are for the East Clallam County area (Greater Sequim area). I can only speak to the calls that came in within the city limits of Sequim and you would need to inquire of the Sheriff’s Office regarding the unincorporated area.
Of the 37 calls to which you refer, nine were within the city. Seven of those calls came in on the night of the Fourth of July (which is an allowable day for fireworks until midnight) and two calls came in on July 5 and July 6.
I think it is useful to know that fireworks laws can be and are different from one jurisdiction to the next. For example, the State of Washington sets baseline rules for all fireworks to include dates of sale and what days and times they may be used. Unincorporated Clallam County has reduced hours and days when fireworks can be used. Port Angeles has yet different days and hour restrictions. Tribal areas have even different rules particularly as to what kinds of fireworks are legal.
The City of Sequim follows the statewide guidelines so you can see that the rules vary within our immediate area (see the WSP Fire Prevention Bureau website to see the specifics).
My point here is that expectations of citizens may not consider that the rules vary to some extent from one community to the next.
Speaking only for the City of Sequim, the city police proactively began working from one side of town to the other at midnight of July 4 shutting down any neighborhood displays we could find. We did not find any illegal fireworks during these contacts, hence no citations.
It is certainly possible that some people may have concealed unlawful fireworks from the officers when they pull up in a marked cruiser.
I would also point out that not all aerial fireworks are unlawful. The writer is correct that pop bottle rockets and missiles are unlawful; however, state law allows fountains, helicopters, aerial spinners, roman candles, parachutes, pin wheels, aerial mines, shells and cakes, spinners, and aerial mortars.
As you can see, there are a number of aerial fireworks that are in fact lawful. Again I would direct you to the WSP website to see what is lawful to be sold and where.
Finally, to address the writer’s concern about issuing citations, I would remind him that a police officer has to actually see the offender set off a firework in his/her presence and be able to determine if it is a lawful firework or not. Most of the time, officers arrive after the fireworks have been fired and it is not possible to identify which person in a group actually set it off.
Generally speaking, our officers seek compliance from city residents and use enforcement only when we don’t receive voluntary compliance. Most of our citizens are very cooperative when we ask them to observe the hours and dates when fireworks are allowable.
I hope this helps to explain why fireworks laws are somewhat complex and the rules literally vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.
It would be useful if the newspaper can explain to citizens such as the writer that their expectations need to be consistent with the particular jurisdiction and the resources that are available.
Chief of Sequim Police
I think Chief Dickinson has covered the major issues involved in enforcing fireworks statutes. As the chief writes, the misdemeanor presence rule (RCW 10.31.100) severely limits the ability of deputies, who may be miles away from where the fireworks were set off, to investigate and cite offenders.
The letter writer wants to equate fireworks violations with DUI enforcement. This is not possible, because DUI’s are one of the exceptions to the misdemeanor presence rule.
Unless the legislature changes RCW 10.31.100 to include fireworks violations (not very likely), I doubt that law enforcement will be able to aggressively enforce fireworks statutes.
Clallam County Sheriff