Digging Deeper into Rockford’s fireworks fines

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ROCKFORD (WREX) –Fireworks are a tradition on the Fourth of July. But the professional light show in downtown Rockford is where that display is supposed to end. Except it doesn’t.

“There were about 16 that just go boom boom boom boom boom, there were two great big mortars,” said Wanda Fermanich, a Rockford resident.

Just ask Wanda Fermanich, who said there were fireworks all over her backyard.

“All the fireworks were laying out here on the ground,” she said pointing to the grass.

Every year, the Rockford fire and police departments get hundreds of fireworks complaints. And every year, only a handful of people get citations. Three out of 450 complaints in 2017, 13 out of 326 complaints in 2018.

But this year aldermen voted to create a new ordinance, specifically setting a ban on fireworks. The results? Out of 365 calls, 35 people were cited. Less than 10 percent. That means 90% of offenders aren’t getting fined.

Rockford Fire says that’s because it’s not that easy to catch.

“It’s not that only 10% are being written its that only 10% are able to be caught because we still have to have a burden of proof. So if I don’t have that burden of proof even though I’ve had 3 complaints at a house and I’m sitting there for an hour and nothing’s happening, that’s kinda hard,” said Tim Morris, fire investigator and coordinator.

For police, other emergencies often take precedence.

“The Fourth of July is a very busy 24 hours for us every year,” said Assistant Deputy Chief of Police Doug Pann. “We had other things going on that were taking priority for our patrol officers.”

This year officers got nearly 4,000 calls for service from July 1 through the 8. Among them, a quadruple shooting on the Fourth. As a result police only gave three fireworks citations.

But Alderman Karen Hoffman, who came up with the proposal to create the ordinance, said the plan needs time to work. And she said the city’s exploring new ideas to make sure those who got away with shooting off fireworks this year won’t try to next year.

“They now have those addresses and they can do a knock and talk and explain, we know where you live, you didn’t get a citation last year, but you could very well next year,” said Hoffman.

And the number of citations this year could have been much lower than they were. Typically only fire and police hand out citations. Between the two departments, they wrote 12 of the 35 citations. The rest came from code enforcement, the first year they’ve ever ticketed people for illegal fireworks.

“The effort’s happening. I promise you that. We’ve had more people out there than in almost the last 20 years I’ve been here,” said Morris.

But while Hoffman said she expects fewer complaints in the future, when it comes to citations,

“Do I expect 100% on 4th of July? That’s never going to happen. We don’t have enough code workers, we don’t have enough firemen. But we know where the big ones are and if we can stop some of the really bad mortars and the ones that are really causing the difficulty, I’m OK with that too.”

If you see someone setting off fireworks in your neighborhood but officers miss it violators can still get a ticket.
That’s if you’re willing to file a report and act as a witness.

Kristin Crowley

Kristin Crowley

Evening News Anchor

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