Aside from birds chirping and children playing, there is nary a sound in Eugene today -- especially the sound of any fireworks, legal or illegal. Right?
That's the law of the land, at any rate, after the Eugene City Council decreed last month that legal fireworks can be set off each year only from June 23 to July 6, and on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.
July 6 was Sunday, so that means no fireworks should be heard within the city until the last day of the year -- more than five months from now.
But unlike the just-ended Fourth of July holiday, in which eight patrol officers and a dispatcher were assigned to respond to calls of illegal fireworks, Eugene police are now back on regular work shifts.
"We will respond to those (fireworks) calls within our normal call priority," said Lt. Scott Fellman on Sunday, explaining that, as always, top priority goes to calls involving life safety issues, and then to crimes in progress.
When they can respond to calls about fireworks, police initially will issue warnings, not citations, Fellman said.
"We want to make people aware of this new law, and not arrest them for something that up until a month ago was legal," he said.
If anyone refuses to comply with a warning, then a citation will be issued, Fellman said.
Before this year, Eugene followed state law, which allows legal fireworks to be discharged any day of the year. The council passed the new law in response to multiple complaints from residents across the city about fireworks scaring pets and keeping people awake all through the night.
Eugene police received 165 complaints on the holiday about disruptive illegal fireworks and conducted 68 investigations. In all, nine individuals were charged with possession of illegal fireworks.
That contrasts dramatically with past years, when, on average, about three people were charged with possessing illegal fireworks -- over the entire calendar year. The difference, Fellman said, was having a special enforcement team dedicated to responding to fireworks complaints.
The detail cost the city about $2,800 in overtime pay, Fellman estimated.
Fellman said anyone who wants to dispose of illegal fireworks can call Eugene police at 541-682-5111 and make an appointment to do so.
Some people, including City Councilor George Poling, said they were unable to get through to the police department's nonemergency phone line on the Fourth to register their complaints about illegal fireworks. Fellman said that's disappointing but not surprising.
"Friday nights are busy anyway, and a Friday night that's a holiday is especially busy," he said. "We had all these calls coming in around the same time. The sun goes down and the fireworks go up."
Fellman said the department had planned to assign another two officers to the fireworks detail, but they were reassigned to a higher priority call that involved securing a search warrant before dealing with an armed subject.
Fellman acknowledged that not anyone who successfully got through to issue a report of illegal fireworks ever saw a police response. "We just couldn't get to everyone, even though we were aware of stuff happening," he said.
Preliminary data, however, suggest that the department did receive a lot fewer calls this year about fireworks compared previous years, Fellman said.
"It feels like a success, but this is just the first step toward getting this problem under control," he said. "This is the first time we've tried to rein it back in."
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