93 fireworks citations issued
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
O'ahu residents were hit with six times as many fireworks-related citations this New Year's period than they got a year ago, the Honolulu Police Department said yesterday.
It's unclear if the jump in citations means there were actually more illegal fireworks than a year ago, HPD Maj. Clayton Kau said.
But there is evidence that the public is more inclined to call HPD with complaints, he said.
Police issued 93 citations from Dec. 30 through Jan. 1, up from 14 last year, Kau said. Meanwhile, there were 1,860 fireworks-related complaints taken by HPD from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, up from 1,361 complaints last year.
"The increase in the number of citations can likely be attributed to a greater increase in public involvement and stepped-up enforcement," Kau said.
Most of the complaints fell into three categories:
• Shooting off fireworks outside of the legally permitted four-hour period between 9 p.m. Dec. 31 and 1 a.m. Jan. 1.
• Setting off fireworks in prohibited areas.
• Setting off aerial or other types of fireworks without a permit.
Only one fireworks-related arrest was made, compared with two last year. A 43-year-old man was arrested in 'Aiea for being in possession of fireworks without a permit.
Kau said that as in previous years, officers from each police district took part in roving patrols in an effort to curb abuse of current laws.
Fireworks-related violations and arrests are difficult because police must either witness a violation occurring, or find a citizen willing to come forward as a witness to a violation. "A lot of times, people don't want to come forward and go to court and testify against a neighbor or a friend," Kau said.
He repeated HPD's call for a complete statewide ban on fireworks.
The time HPD spends on fireworks incidents "does take away from other types of emergency calls ... and it does damage property and injures people," Kau said.
"If we ban consumer fireworks, bringing in any type of consumer fireworks into the state of Hawai'i, it will also prevent them from bringing in the illegal fireworks," Kau said. That's because illegal fireworks are often concealed in the midst of legal ones, he said.
The Honolulu Fire Department also supports a complete ban.
HFD reported over the weekend that it responded to 16 incidents on New Year's Eve that appeared to have been fireworks-related, compared to 14 last year.
Paramedics responded to three fireworks-related incidents, two of which left people seriously injured, according to the city Department of Emergency Services.
Richard Botti, a lobbyist for a fireworks distributor and retailers who sell fireworks, said he disagrees with police and fire officials that a total ban would help curb the abuses.
People who bring in legal fireworks aren't to blame, he said. Distributors must obtain a license that costs up to $3,000, and then must notify authorities when shipments come in so they wouldn't risk bringing in illegal goods, he said.
Illegal fireworks are more likely to be brought in through mislabeled containers that might be described as "household goods," Botti said.
The major complaints are illegal aerials and home-concocted concussion bombs designed to set off a loud bang, both of which are already against the law, he said.
The solution lies in stricter enforcement and more serious penalties, Botti said.
State Rep. Marilyn Lee, D-38th (Mililani, Mililani Mauka), is one of several lawmakers who will try again in this year's legislative session to either ban fireworks, or at least place more restrictions on what's now legal.
Lee said she's received more complaints this year than ever before from pet owners, people with asthma or other lung issues that run into problems on New Year's, and people simply fed up with the noise.
She hopes that's a sign a majority of her colleagues will help push through stiffer fireworks laws.
"This year, I feel like there's something a little different," Lee said. "People have just had it."