116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Early July is a busy time of the year for Iowa’s old fuddy-duddy community. It’s one of their favorite times to call the cops on their neighbors.
Even the good liberals in Eastern Iowa’s blue counties are all too eager to request armed government agents to handle their minor nuisances. I guess they didn’t learn much from the past year’s reckoning on over-policing.
Cedar Rapids police say they got nearly 500 fireworks calls in the span of a few days around the July 4 holiday, while Iowa City took more than 100. Those numbers are slightly down from last year, but that still is an outrageous volume of police calls for totally foreseeable and mostly non-violent behavior.
My elected officials in Iowa City plan to take up the issue with their colleagues in other local governments, to see if they can hatch some kind of regional enforcement and regulatory plan. But local governments in Iowa have significant local control over fireworks and many already are exercising it.
Cities can outright prohibit the use of fireworks or restrict use to certain products. They can impose fines higher than the $250 minimum prescribed by state law. They’re not supposed to outlaw firework sales, but in effect they can — Iowa City’s harsh zoning regulations on fireworks sales meant there were no roadside tents or parking lot markets in our town this year.
‘It’s rare that we can actually track down the people who are lighting the fireworks.’ - Geoff Fruin, Iowa City city manager
In most places in Johnson County — including the three sizable cities and all unincorporated areas — it’s illegal to use fireworks, but people do it anyway. That’s the thing about law and order we don’t talk about enough: When hundreds of people are participating in illegal activity at the same time, police have little ability to stop us. Call it the Melrose-Avenue-open-container effect.
Leading up to Independence Day, the city government sent out messages encouraging citizens to call police dispatchers to report illegal fireworks.
However, people who call the police “can’t point us in the direction necessarily of where those fireworks are being shot off from. … It’s rare that we can actually track down the people who are lighting the fireworks,” city manager Geoff Fruin told Iowa City Council members this week.
Government officials could, I guess, send out more officers to write tickets. They could camouflage themselves in the trees along the railroad tracks and wait to pounce on the booms and pops. They could round people up and search their pockets to see who has the Black Cats and the Bic. They could stage their military surplus vehicle nearby and shoot flash-bang grenades and tear gas to clear out groups of young people gathering near city parks.
They could do like Los Angeles authorities did last week, confiscating tons of fireworks and exploding them in the street, reportedly damaging dozens of homes and injuring 17 people. It might be illegal, but they could try it anyway.
Or, concerned citizens could do something different — they could talk to their neighbors.
“I actually yelled at them and they quit, to my astonishment,” Iowa City Council member Janice Weiner said.
Kudos to Weiner for not calling the police on her neighbors. Be like Weiner.
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