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Kaua‘i County Council talks fireworks enforcement

LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i neighborhoods were lit up on New Year’s Eve with a massive display of amateur fireworks, both legal and illegal.

With the show came a flood of complaints to the Kaua‘i Police Department — 83 in total, according to Chief Todd Raybuck, who presented fireworks enforcement efforts to the Kaua‘i County Council Public Safety and Human Services Committee on Thursday.

According to Raybuck, making an illegal fireworks arrest is easier said than done.

Police must first obtain probable cause by directly seeing an individual lighting a firework, viewing video evidence or obtaining a witness statement. Since the fireworks are such a common practice, getting community members to come forward with witness statements is understandably difficult. There were no arrests for fireworks violations recorded in the KPD arrest log this year.

Raybuck suggested potentially holding property owners responsible for illegal fireworks infractions as a means to improve enforcement.

“The burden for a civil infraction is much lower than a criminal infraction,” said Raybuck. “It might be in the purview of discussion for this body to pass an ordinance that would allow enforcement for a code violation when illegal fireworks are deployed on private property.”

This idea is similar to a 2019 O‘ahu law that holds the property owners and renters responsible for any aerial fireworks that are ignited, stored or released from their property.

The police chief also discussed changing the norms around illegal firework use.

“You can make all the laws you want, but it doesn’t mean we can arrest our way out of the problem,” said Raybuck. “It’s going to come down to — what does the community expect and how is the community going to respond.”

While consumer fireworks, which remain on or near the ground, can be used legally on the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve and Chinese New Year, any sort of aerial device is illegal under state law.

Though most council members echoed Raybuck’s concerns, county council member Billy DeCosta took a live and let live approach to fireworks.

“I own 10 acres, and I have three rascal boys,” said DeCosta. “I don’t think a property owner should be liable if one of their sons are with a couple of buddies having a few beers and light off an aerial up in the sky. I think we’re going to open a whole can of worms, and I’m going to be one of those worms.”

He added, “Sometimes we just have to keep our complaints to ourselves and let the people enjoy their constitutional right, which is they can enjoy fireworks twice a year.”

In Filipino and Chinese culture, fireworks are lit off to ward off bad spirits before the new year begins. But loud fireworks displays can negatively impact those with mental health issues, pets and small children.

County council member Addison Bulosan, who is Filipino, discussed balancing cultural tradition with public safety.

“When I look at the social norm and the cultural practice, it makes sense in my heritage,” said Bulosan. “But for the safety of the community, it doesn’t make sense.”

Amateur fireworks can come at a significant expense to those who light them off.

Bulosan, who arranged shows in the past, reported that a 10-minute professional show can cost as much as $25,000.

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Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-0329 or gscrimgeour@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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