SCHENECTADY -- The Schenectady Police Department may have stepped up enforcement of the city's fireworks ban, but some residents said this year’s Fourth of July was no different from previous years.
Sgt. Matt Dearing, spokesman for the Police Department, said police issued at least one citation to a resident for illegally launching fireworks, and police received approximately 70 fireworks-related calls Wednesday night.
Police issued a ticket to 23-year-old city resident Abdullah Akari after he set off fireworks at around 9:04 p.m. in front of a crowd on Albany Street, Dearing said. Specifically, Akari was caught launching a firework called "Hong Kong Artillery Shell" and had two “Darth Vader” rocket fireworks confiscated from him when he was cited, according to Dearing.
Akari will appear in court at a later date to answer the charge, Dearing said.
The ticket was issued under an amendment to the city’s fireworks ordinance regarding permits for publicly displayed fireworks, which Schenectady City Council members approved near the end of June. Under the ordinance, anyone found to have illegally launched a firework faces a fine of up to $250. The amendment also allows police to confiscate any fireworks-related materials.
The city's fireworks rules were enacted after the Schenectady County Legislature in April banned the use of all fireworks in the county.
The city's amendment, though, was not effective in stopping illegal fireworks.
“I swear, I was in a war zone,” said Pat Smith, president of the Mont Pleasant Neighborhood Association.
Smith, along with Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association President Marva Isaacs, said fireworks were being set off until the early morning hours.
Isaacs said she heard them going off until 5 a.m., forcing her to call out of work Thursday morning due to a lack of sleep. She said she didn’t really see much of a police presence in her neighborhood.
“It’s ridiculous,” Isaacs said. “It’s everywhere. I’m telling you, if you come around here, you would see everything they did [fireworks debris] on the ground outside. They didn’t clean it up.”
Councilman John Polimeni, who helped craft the fireworks amendment, said residents who contacted him about fireworks told him there seemed to be fewer fireworks than previous years, at least in the buildup to the Fourth of July.
He admitted there were pockets of the city where the situation was bad on Wednesday.
Independent Councilman Vince Riggi said he received around the same number of phone calls from residents complaining about fireworks as he did in previous years.
Enforcement was always a concern for Riggi. He said he never planned to vote against the amendment, but he was worried it wasn’t going to be able to be properly enforced.
After the Fourth of July and Police Chief Eric Clifford’s promise of focused patrols for fireworks violations, Riggi wondered if there were enough resources to handle those calls. He even questioned whether the council should have approved the amendment.
“By passing the legislation, myself included, we gave off false promises maybe,” Riggi said.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said the only police-related incidents he heard about were two shootings on Wednesday night. He said he had heard nothing about fireworks, not even any complaints from City Council members.
McCarthy said police were following up on complaints. And like any other crime or violation, he said they have to document the complaint, put their information together and make an arrest.
“The calls as they come in are prioritized, and the police are dispatched according to that,” McCarthy said. “And they are still reviewing some things today in regards to fireworks.”
Overall, Wednesday was a busy day for police, Dearing said. In addition to fireworks-related calls and the shootings, the department had to staff some details at Mohawk Harbor for the fireworks display there.
Dearing said it was well-publicized that fireworks weren’t allowed in the county and that a fine would be levied against any offenders in the city.
“I think we did the best we could, given the circumstances of the day," he said. “There’s always obviously room for improvement in everything we do.”
Isaacs and Smith both said their anger and frustration were mainly directed at the people setting off the fireworks.
“Apparently, the citizens of Schenectady do not abide by the rules or care much about their neighbors,” Smith said. “And I find it very sad they do not care about their neighbors or the law.”
Riggi also wondered if it’s something the city will ever be able to enforce, and whether they have enough resources to do so. He said police were able to clear out Hillhurst Park before any fireworks began, which he was thankful for, but it didn’t stop residents from setting off fireworks in other areas of the city.
“You have to have consideration for others,” Riggi said. “When there’s a lack of consideration, it’s when all hell breaks loose as far as complaints.”