Local residents who plan to celebrate Independence Day or ring in the new year with fireworks now have a temporary window of opportunity to discharge them within city limits without a special permit or the possibility of receiving a citation.
After a vigorous discussion and debate Thursday, the El Dorado City Council agreed to a request by Police Chief Kenny Hickman to amend an existing city ordinance regulating the use of fireworks within city limits.
Ordinance 1072 prohibits the sale, setting off, ignition or otherwise exploding of firecrackers or other fireworks inside the city.
However, the ordinance now includes exceptions that allow a three-day window to discharge fireworks in the city for the fourth of July and New Year's Day.
The use of fireworks is permitted within city limits until 10 p.m. on July 4 and the days that immediately precede and follow the holiday.
This year, the holiday is on Monday, so fireworks may be discharged until 10 p.m. on Sunday, July 3; Monday, July 4; and Tuesday, July 5.
The same three-day window also applies to New Year's Day, with one change.
Revelers may discharge fireworks until 10 p.m. on Jan. 1 and 2.
However, for New Year's Eve (Dec. 31), the hours will be extended to 2 a.m. on New Year's Day.
The use of fireworks will not be permitted during a burn ban for either holiday.
Hickman explained that the ordinance amendment will not only help to ease the workload and calls and complaints for the El Dorado Police Department during those holidays, it will also allow officers to direct resources toward more serious calls for service
"Our resources get pretty much exhausted chasing down fireworks calls around those times and most of the time, it's just kids having a little bit of fun," Hickman said.
He said that he has been advised that other cities have made such exemptions regarding fireworks and he acknowledged that while "it is a little bit annoying if you're not into fireworks, it's only a short window."
Hickman said 30 calls for police services typify a busy, 12-hour shift for officers.
"So, a 60-call day would be incredibly busy. Wall-to-wall, that's a busy Saturday," he said.
"Last July 4, we had 81 (calls). So, it gets kind of busy and a lot of those calls don't pertain to fireworks but they do take you from other things," Hickman added.
Council Member Willie McGhee said fireworks routinely go off in his neighborhood long after 10 p.m. during the two holidays.
"If (police) get a call to come out, with people thinking they had the OK to shoot them (fireworks), will they get a warning or a reprimand or something like that or will you kind of work at it as it goes?" McGhee asked, referring to the ordinance amendment.
Hickman said such calls will be handled on a case-by-case basis and the EPD will work to spread the word about the new ordinance amendment by using its new website, Facebook page and other means of communication.
With his request to amend Ordinance 1072 and the cut-off time for fireworks, Hickman said consideration was given to residents who may have to get up early for work the following day.
"We're just trying to think of a compromise between the needs of people and in some way, they're going to do it anyway," Hickman said. "It will lighten the load on us and free them up to have fun."
Council Member Andre Rucks asked Hickman for his thoughts on a 10 or 10:30 p.m. cut-off for fireworks on weekdays and a midnight stoppage on the weekend, noting, "I know my wife has to go to work early and she has to go to sleep early."
Council Member Mike Rice questioned the three-day allotment.
"I don't know that there's a need for three days and I say this is because I get a lot of phone calls every time fireworks start popping," said Rice, who represents Ward 1, along with City Council Member Avo Vartenian.
"I've got a lot of elderly people in my ward and also a lot of people with pets that have issues with fireworks cracking and popping. Three days is a long time for somebody to go without a good night's sleep," Rice continued.
He suggested that the exemption be limited to one day, the holiday itself, adding that people can plan to discharge fireworks and "get it all out for a few hours on one day."
Hickman said he had had similar thoughts and offered his perspective, telling Rice, "My second thought is it won't have any bearing and it's going to happen for three days anyway."
Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer reminded the group that July 4 is on Monday this year and she said people will likely began discharging fireworks on the weekend leading up to and in the days following the holiday.
Council Member Judy Ward expressed concern about the extension for New Year's Eve.
"(Two) a.m. is a long time to be kept awake. Kids will stay up as long as they're allowed to," Ward said.
Council Member Dianne Hammond asked Hickman if officers typically make arrests or detain offenders when they respond to calls about fireworks.
Hickman said multiple citations have been issued over the years.
In some cases, he said, police have confiscated fireworks, some from children, noted the children's names and advised their parents that they may pick up the items later from the police department.
"In the past, I've felt like the Scrooge that stole the kids' (Christmas) stockings and it was not exactly something I wanted to do," he said. "Again, sometimes you have to weigh the benefit of it and what the actual offense is."
Rice, a former law enforcement officer, noted instances in which police responded to felonious offenses, including terroristic acts, involving fireworks.
Hickman reiterated that the EPD was seeking the amendment for minor offenses.
"And then we went through periods where we didn't seize any at all and it never seemed to get any better. The kinder we got, the worse it got," Hickman said.
Smith-Creer suggested possibly designating a non-residential location to safely discharge fireworks in the city.
"There are all kind of options and I'm throwing it out here. What we have is not working and to be heavy-handed with something like fireworks is a little difficult to approach," Hickman said.
Hammond later said she preferred a 1 a.m. clip for fireworks on New Year's Eve.
"Let's try two o'clock and if that don't work, we can come back and change it," McGhee said.
Rice agreed, telling Hickman, "You've obviously given it a lot of thought."
The council approved the ordinance revision as requested by Hickman.
The vote came with an emergency clause, meaning that the amendment went into effect immediately after it was adopted.