Police will bring back revamped fireworks response

Police will bring back revamped fireworks response

PAWTUCKET – The city saw a 530 percent increase in calls related to fireworks last year, says Pawtucket Police Department Capt. David Holden, leading to a revised approach in 2020 that led to more offenders being caught setting off illegal aerial displays.

During a meeting of the City Council’s public safety subcommittee last week, council members asked Holden and Chief Tina Goncalves for an update on their approach to fireworks as they prepare to again field numerous calls from constituents complaining about the annual summertime disruption in their neighborhoods.

Holden said the Neighborhood Response Unit was busy during the pandemic, taking an adapted approach once police realized how big the fireworks problem was going to be. Officers responded to neighborhoods in unmarked Community Policing Unit cars, he said, spending time waiting to catch offenders in the act as they tried to pinpoint exact addresses. Police followed up during daytime hours, he said, speaking to neighbors on streets where fireworks had been heavy the night before. That approach “seems to have worked best,” he said, and it’s the department’s “intention to do it again this year.”

Sometimes there’s resistance to what police are trying to do and sometimes there’s not, said Holden, but officers continually spoke with residents and landlords to try to get voluntary compliance last summer.

In June of 2020, there were 190 calls for fireworks complaints, compared to 34 such calls in June 2019.

• Legal fireworks in Rhode Island are ground-based and handheld sparkling devices (“sparklers”) that produce a shower of white, gold, or colored sparks.

• Illegal fireworks are firecrackers, rockets, mortars, or any other device that launches a projectile and/or makes a bang/detonation/report.

City ordinance cites state law on penalties for fireworks use. The state law lists a $20 fine for each offense.

Councilor Terry Mercer said the fireworks problem was overwhelming for residents in 2020, as police were “out-manned, out-gunned and out-rocketed.” All council members, particularly those representing districts, appreciate the more “robust approach,” he said, and he encourages police to possibly use bike and foot patrols and “whatever you think would work” to combat the problem and the best and most productive way possible.

Mercer said his phone rang off the hook in the summer of 2020.

“It was a nightmare last year,” he said, adding that it could be worse this year as people “break out after being cooped up last year.”

Mercer said he would not be opposed to more arrests being made as there were a couple of years ago.

Councilor Mark Wildenhain asked police to include some of the areas that are more out of the way in their patrols, such as Doreen Tomlinson Field. He said councilors recognize that police are stretched to the limit, but they appreciate anything they can do to help residents and believe simply having a presence in neighborhoods will help reassure residents that something is being done.

Councilor Tim Rudd asked about possible greater investment in the budget for patrols. Goncalves said the best approach there is to allot more money to bike patrols, as the department can bid out available shifts on a voluntary basis to both community policing and patrol units.

Rudd and others advocated for an active approach, with posts on social media and press releases in local publications. Goncalves said police will do everything they can to get information out to the public on their enforcement efforts.