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