There’s no doubt that policing municipal bans on the un-permitted use of fireworks during the holidays presents a dilemma for cities that have such prohibitions, which in Galveston County is all of them.

Nobody wants the police so tied up on fireworks calls that they can’t enforce laws against driving drunk, for example, as a Galveston police department spokesman pointed out in a news story published Thursday.

All the same, it’s time for at least a couple cities to either step up their efforts to enforce the bans, or to rethink keeping the unenforced laws on the books.

Several people complained to the newspaper this year about how widely the fireworks bans were ignored in Galveston and Texas City. Daily News staff members who live in those cities reported the same.

Galveston Police Department dispatched 60 calls reporting fireworks over a 12-hour period on New Year’s Eve, despite extensive efforts on social media to let people know shooting fireworks on the island is illegal, Capt. Josh Schirard, spokesman for the department, said.

As of Thursday afternoon, information was not available on the number of fireworks-related citations issued by Galveston police.

Galveston Police Department judged the violations this year to be about average, but the consensus among other witnesses was that New Year’s Eve 2018 was worse than years past.

Herbert Frankovich, of Texas City, complained to The Daily News, via a letter to the editor, that fireworks and what sounded like bombs were going off in his 15th Street North neighborhood all evening long on New Year’s Eve, with acrid smoke drifting down the street and rockets everywhere.

“I have lived in Texas City for 50 years and it has never been this bad,” Frankovich wrote.

It sounded like bombs bursting in the air at Darrell Isaacks’ house near 99th Street on Galveston Island, with fireworks echoing from the bay to the beach, he said.

“Most of them are shot out on the beach,” Isaacks, chief deputy of the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, said.

One thing clear from the reporting is that education efforts alone aren’t going to solve the problem. As with all laws, getting wide compliance requires some enforcement.

There are all sorts of practical reasons for banning the freelance use of fireworks in city limits, which is why cities have taken the time and expended the public resources to enact bans in the first place.

One is that they kill and injure people and destroy property.

“Fireworks start an average of 18,500 fires per year, including 1,300 structure fires, 300 vehicle fires and 16,900 outside and other fires,” according to the National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards.

“These fires caused an average of three deaths, 40 civilian injuries, and an average of $43 million in direct property damage.”

In 2017, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 12,900 people for fireworks related injuries and eight people died, according to the Insurance Journal.

Fireworks also terrorize pets and wildlife, generally disturb the peace and create several forms of pollution and litter.

There’s an important matter of principle at issue here, too. Laws that go unenforced are worse than useless because they create, or perhaps reveal, an impotence that undermines the whole concept of government.

Frankovich, who wrote he could hear children enjoying all the excitement on the streets of Texas City, summed it up well.

“Parents are teaching their children that it is OK to break the law as long as you are having fun,” he said. “But what one generation allows in moderation, the next generation will excuse in excess.”

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com

Editor

(9) comments

Rusty Schroeder

Since you do read the comments by viewers, here's another suggestion. Interview every Mayor and Police Chief in the county, ask what they did to prevent the use of fireworks, then ask how many citations were issues or fireworks confiscated. Follow up on your editorial, I for one would like you to start with Santa Fe. Because no follow up with facts, is just empty words, like you just wrote about.

Randy Chapman

Gunfire was a serious issue in Texas City. I can only hope they were firing the gun downward, but something tells me someone ignorant enough to fire a gun on New Years wouldn't have that much common sense.

Robert Braeking

Fireworks bans are like any other prohibition. It is against human nature to allow a government to lord over its citizens. Instead of an all encompassing ban perhaps allowing certain types of pyrotechnics would be preferable to standing on the citizen's necks. As long as the government has not made mind-numb robots out of the citizenry then there will be violations of any government efforts to alter behavior.

George Croix

I would personally rather practice the human nature of direct intervention when some inconsiderate idiot is firing off pyrotechnics that are exploding over MY house and property, but going to jail over contact with a fool would just make me equally foolish, and do nothing to cure the unfixable one.
There's a big difference between being harnessed by government, and with being self-absorbed and inconsiderate towards ones neighbors.
A city subdivision is no place to be shooting off fireworks, ESPECIALLY the big boomer type.
IMO, as always........

Gary Miller

Laws not enforced are the worst kind. Before a city passes something they should determine how and if they will enforce it. Without an enforcement plan the law should not be passed. TC has a law against glass containers in parks and the TC dike. Totally unenforced. Enforce it or repeal it. Same for fireworks.

George Croix

[thumbup]

Tosha Jones

Mr. Smith, THANK YOU for your article! Finally myself and our neighbors are not the only one's complaining. If we scream loud enough, someone might hear & care!
I complained to the City Manager's office in early January 2018 regarding the "war zone" Texas City sounded like on New Year's Eve 2017. They basically "blew me off" and I have every email and the worthless records they sent me... I'll email them to you! Maybe you'll receive more respect than I did. Thanks again!

Wayne Holt

I think there is a broader question here about the lack of enforcement, not of petty infractions, but of public nuisances due to sound or behavior that disrupt--or endanger-- the lives of residents who are a permanent part of the community.

How is it possible that these types of mass behaviors are tolerated but God forbid an individual parks across part of their sidewalk because the driveway was built for a Model T?

I can't say I am in agreement with the idea of taking laws off the books that are not being enforced. There is at least some minor deterrence with them still there. Once removed, we'll be able to enjoy a re-enactment of the bombardment of Ft. Sumter on the streets of downtown each big holiday.

What gives? Is it really too much to expect pyrotechnic explosions and hordes of over revved motorcycles to be tamed for the benefit of taxpayers?

Ron Woody

My understanding is that not wearing a seat belt is often a secondary citation and not the primary reason for a traffic stop. Firework enforcement should also be a secondary offense, primary disturbing the peace, endangering the life of a minor, etc. Secondary offense shooting off fireworks.

Just my thoughts!

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