Photo by Tony Miller
Fireworks burst over the Des Moines Marina pier during a licensed Fourth of July display

Des Moines decriminalizes non-nuisance fireworks

Possession and discharge of fireworks in Des Moines will no longer be a criminal offense and will now be considered a class 1 civil infraction.

The Des Moines City Council voted 6-1 on April 12 to decriminalize nuisance type fireworks possession and discharge offenses. Possessing more than five pounds of fireworks will remain a criminal offense; acts endangering people or property will also remain a criminal offense.

“This is a more appropriate way to handle this,” Mayor pro tem Matt Pina said.

The city’s Public Safety and Transportation Committee also unanimously support the change, Pina said.

On average, there 100 plus calls each year to the Des Moines Police Department on and around the Fourth of July holiday for fireworks related offenses, according to Des Moines Police Chief John O’Leary. Of these, very few ever go before a judge.

“This way, it can be ticketed rather than having to be witnessed by our officers and will actually help reduce court costs and will be easier for the city to enforce,” said Mayor Dave Kaplan.

“This will allow us to have neighbors who witness it and are willing to testify come into court,” City Manager Tony Piasecki added.

Before this decision, violators were subject to arrest and jail time for up to 90 days, as well as a $1,000 fine. The time and effort spent documenting and resolving a criminal case is far greater than a civil case.

Because the offense will now be handled in civil court, the burden of proof will be less than in a criminal case; there will be no need for lengthy court cases for defendants who plead not guilty. Pleading not guilty will no longer be an option.

Offenders will now receive a citation with a possible maximum fine of $513 and no possibility of jail time according to O’Leary. This eliminates creating a criminal record for the offender, which may have to be disclosed for employment or other purposes, he added.

Councilwoman Jeanette Burrage voted against the ordinance.

“I think that very safe fireworks like sparklers and fountains should be legal in Des Moines,” said Burrage in reference to her vote against the ordinance.

Since the city’s decision in 2006 to ban fireworks, Des Moines has partnered with private entities to bring the Fourth of July fireworks show each year to the marina.

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