An overwhelming number of complaints come into police departments every Fourth of July about fireworks. They’re illegal to set off in Ohio, yet police rarely issue citations to violators.
Ohio’s law creates a unique situation because it’s legal to possess fireworks, but illegal to set them off. That’s one reason why many people who break this law never face a penalty.
“We expect a lot of complaints so we basically double up on the shift,” said Capt. Steve Scharschmidt with Parma Heights Police.
The Parma Heights Police Department received 13 fireworks complaints on Tuesday, but issued no citations. We talked with representatives from multiple other agencies in the area and all reported the same thing: many complaints, no citations. Capt. Scharschmidt says people generally call it quits after a warning.
“These are good people so we’re generally not out to just cite,” he said.
And because of Ohio law, officers also need proof.
“We have to see them do it. We have to witness them, or if they have the fireworks and there’s smoke in the air, if there’s enough evidence to think that they did set those fireworks off, we can charge them,” Scharschmidt told us.
Things can turn from fun to frightening quickly, like an incident Tuesday night, in Lakewood.
“It was absolutely horrifying and you realize how many people could have died,” a woman told Channel 3.
She witnessed the accident on Lake Avenue. A 49-year-old man received serious injuries to his hand and leg as he ignited powerful fireworks.
While most times police issue warnings, Capt. Scharschmidt says some cases call for more serious action.
“If someone is putting the lives of other people at risk or it’s something egregious then there are no warnings. We’ll certainly cite someone,” Scharschmidt said.
First time offenders are usually charged with a first-degree misdemeanor which can carry a punishment of up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Capt. Scharschmidt says warnings are the most popular course of action, because they usually stop the behavior.
“We do feel good about that because no one’s going to get hurt and that’s really the whole key,” he said.
Police can also confiscate fireworks at their discretion. That did happen Tuesday in Parma Heights.
We also checked with Cleveland Police. We learned they had several minor confiscations and did issue several citations.