CEDAR RAPIDS — City officials are looking to the courts and to state lawmakers to act on a sharp uptick in calls for service to Cedar Rapids public safety departments regarding fireworks.
Calls for service from June 1 to July 8 increased 90 percent from the same period in 2019, totaling 1,174, as COVID-19 canceled public fireworks displays and appears to have prompted individuals to instead host their own private displays.
Iowa legalized the sale, possession and use of fireworks in 2017 in a limited fashion, but many Iowa cities, including Cedar Rapids, enacted more stringent restrictions barring people from setting off consumer fireworks in their jurisdictions.
City Council member Dale Todd, who leads the council’s Public Safety and Youth Services Committee, proposed city officials talk to judges who impose the minimum fine on people who set off fireworks and asking what type of deterrence that might be.
In addition to court fees, judges imposed fines ranging from $60 to $250, according to data compiled by the city — far below the maximum fine of $625 for those who use fireworks within city limits.
Todd said “a lot of these are explosives where there simply should be no place in a neighborhood for this stuff.”
“The city, the municipality has to ask: Is it worth it? And I think it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t appear to be worth it for us,” Todd said.
He urged city officials to home in on asking state lawmakers to take further action on the matter in the Iowa Legislature when the 2021 session convenes in January.
“It’s just sad,” Todd said at a Sept. 21 committee meeting. “It takes a lot of fun out of the Fourth. It’s got nothing to do with patriotism.”
Council member Ashley Vanorny said her pet parrot hit a wall and died one weekend when there was a significant number of fireworks set off, and she added she has heard from other pet owners about the stress fireworks cause their animals. Moreover, she said veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder struggle with them.
She feared that with a spike in attempted murders and shots fired, fireworks are “something that we just don’t have the human capital to police.”
Another committee member, council member Scott Overland, said he also supports advocating for this issue at the Statehouse.
“It’s my opinion that we’re not going to see significant improvement in normal times unless the state of Iowa provides some additional local control over sale of fireworks in the area,” Overland said.
Fireworks patrol units cited many violators, Police Chief Wayne Jerman previously said, but ultimately the “number of violators just surpassed the officers in their enforcement activities.”
Fireworks caused fires and people were transported to receive medical care for injuries suffered from the devices, Jerman said.
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“We hope 2021 is going to be less disruptive, but again we’re going to try to get the word out and educate and ask that people in Cedar Rapids respect their neighbors and not discharge the fireworks and let people enjoy a more calmer Fourth of July,” Jerman said.
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