WICHITA, Kan - It's unclear if Wichita's aggressive enforcement of fireworks laws had a positive impact on community safety this year. That's what fire chief Tammy Snow told the city council Tuesday in a report on the enforcement efforts for the July 4th holiday.
During a council workshop meeting, Snow reported that 22 teams of police officers and firefighters worked across the city on July 3rd and 4th. They wrote 138 citations, and one was thrown out while two others went to court. Snow said the rest involved citizens paying the fine or making arrangements for payment.
Snow said dispatchers received 1,437 complaint calls this year through a fireworks hotline that was set up. There were 51 reported injuries due to fireworks, an increase of 15 from last year. There was also an increase of 17 fireworks-related incidents. Snow said the dollar loss was down, but that covered the reporting period of June 27th to July 5th. A July 6th house fire in the 1200 block of North Bracken Court caused around $400,000 in damage, and that was blamed on a bottle rocket that was purchased in Oklahoma.
Snow said there were positive comments from some residents about less use of illegal fireworks in their neighborhoods this year. Other residents had negative comments about the enforcement effort and the writing of citations.
Snow said the staffing of the 22 teams was problematic and because of staffing issues, the teams were not able to confiscate all of the illegal fireworks that some residents had. She said teams could look around at each location and see illegal fireworks going off all around them. She also said fire officers were not equipped or trained to handle hostile situations, and there were concerns about officer safety.
Snow said the citations could result in $34,500 in fines depending on the court cases. The city's fireworks sales permits brought in $48,000 in revenue, and the enhanced enforcement cost the city over $27,000 for a net revenue amount of more than $20,000.
Snow said many citizens continued to use illegal fireworks even after the widely publicized plan to issue citations.
The city council will study the report and decide if any changes are needed for next year. The report will also be presented to the district advisory boards for discussion. Council member James Clendenin said this is only one year of the program, and "you can't really get, in my opinion, a good grip on how this is going to work until citizens really understand that there is going to be enforcement."