More people have been violating Newton’s fireworks ordinance this year.
From June 1 to July 1, calls reporting illegal fireworks use has more than doubled since 2019. This year, Newton Police Department received 130 fireworks calls, up considerably from 64 in 2019 and 54 in 2018. Based on this data, police have received more fireworks calls in 2020 than the combined two previous years.
Citations have increased, too. Officers have issued 13 fireworks-related citations in 2020 thus far, versus nine in 2019 and nine again in 2018.
“Not good,” Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess said.
Even though citizens can legally purchase fireworks in Newton, they cannot discharge them in city limits until the evening of Independence Day, or, more specifically, between 8 and 11 p.m. July 4. Some have clearly chosen to ignore this law, which was adopted by the city council in April 2019.
Burdess said the police department is doing the best it can with enforcement. A few years ago, Newton was one of the first cities in Iowa to adopt a social host ordinance for fireworks. Home owners/occupants now share the responsibility when getting issued a ticket for illegal fireworks use.
“If we can’t identify necessarily who is shooting them off on the property, we can potentially go back against the owner of the property and cite them for allowing illegal fireworks to be shot off,” Burdess said. “It’s an indirect way of enforcing a fireworks violation.”
There are some challenges to this social host ordinance. For instance, officers need a named witness who saw someone firing fireworks at a specific residence, as well as evidence of fireworks being shot off. If officers have a witness and see debris on the property, there’s a chance a $250 fine could be issued.
Repeat offenses can be treated as municipal infractions; a judge would then decide what the fine could be, which can get up to $625.
A higher volume of fireworks calls can put a strain on the police department.
“It’s frustrating,” Burdess said. “The normal police calls we get don’t stop just because fireworks are going off. We really have to prioritize. Life and safety is the most important to us. So we’re going to respond to life/safety-type calls first. Fireworks are kind of low down on the priority list.”
Burdess said these frustrations are felt by police departments statewide. Some feel “buried” by the call volume. Other police departments are not doing any form of enforcement, he said. State legislation adopted almost three years ago says possession and sales of consumer-grade fireworks is not illegal in Iowa.
“State code does not allow cities to prohibit the sale within the community,” Burdess added. “That’s one misnomer that is out there, that the city is just approving these fireworks stands or letting them come in. Unfortunately, per the state code, we don’t have a choice.”
Residents are still encouraged to call the police department for concerns about illegal fireworks use.
“We’re doing the best we can with the resources we have,” Burdess said. “We’re definitely frustrated by it, too. We really encourage our residents to be mindful. There is an ordinance for a reason.”
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or email@example.com