LOWELL -- Police scanners have crackled recently with reports of gunshots throughout the city, but upon further investigation, most of those reported incidents were actually exploding illegal fireworks.

After hearing from Police Superintendent Bill Taylor at Tuesday night's City Council meeting, the council voted unanimously to add a section to the city's fire-prevention ordinance prohibiting the sale, possession and use of fireworks and giving police officers the ability to fine violators on the spot.

The ordinance defines fireworks as "blank cartridges or toy cannons in which explosives are used, firecrackers, cherry bombs, silver salutes, M-80s, torpedoes, sky-rockets, Roman candles, rockets, wheels, colored fires, fountains, mines, serpents or other fireworks of like construction."

It also says "no person shall sell, possess or use fireworks within the city" except those who obtained a permit, such as what will happen at LeLacheur Park on July 4.

Violations of the ordinance shall be punished by a fine of $300 per violation.

City Councilor Rita Mercier had placed a motion on the agenda that would have requested City Manager Kevin Murphy ask the Law Department draft a city ordinance that would allow the City Council to increase the fine and set stricter penalties for those who set off fireworks.

"The concern we have, number one, is public safety," Mercier said. "If you look at those areas with a magnitude of fireworks being shot off, it's areas of the city that are very densely populated.


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It's one thing to be awakened in the middle of the night when you have to go to work, but buildings are close to each other and people are fearful of fires."

Mercier's motion would have also directed Murphy to have Taylor form a special unit to crack down on the activity, but with the council's next meeting not scheduled until after Independence Day, Murphy did not want to wait.

"With the Fourth of July coming up, we wanted to be proactive with this," Murphy said.

Two residents spoke in favor of the ordinance change, including Ann Marie Page, president of the city-wide Neighborhood Council.

"If you have to work with Chief Taylor to get the message out, that's what we have to do. We don't want to see someone seriously injured," she said.

Taylor's presentation included a map of disturbance and fireworks calls throughout the city between June 1 and June 23, courtesy of the Lowell Police Department's crime analysis/intelligence unit.

"Clearly, this has been an increasing problem in the city over the past several weeks," Taylor said in thanking the council. "A local ordinance will give police officers in the field on a nightly basis an additional tool to work more efficiently with this issue with a fine-based program, as opposed to the current procedure which requires the police officer to fill out a complaint form, go to District Court and request a hearing."

Taylor said fireworks possession is a non-arrestable misdemeanor under state law.

"On certain occasions, it can rise to a breach of the peace and the officer has additional options for arrest under certain conditions. We've done that increasingly."

Police have "significantly increased patrols" thanks to "a lot of disturbances in the Highlands and Back Central and Centralville area," Taylor said. "We've put together a specialized group of officers who go out on a nightly basis paid with overtime funds or some grants we have available to us. We use foot patrol and motor-vehicle enforcement."

Taylor said the city's proximity to New Hampshire, where fireworks use, sale and possession is legal, is challenging for his department.

"We're the only state in New England that outlaws use and possession of fireworks to the extent we do. A few miles up the road, you can get an ample supply of fireworks and bring them back to Lowell to use them."

"This is far beyond nuisance levels in the city this year. Men on the streets have a difficult task. You have to literally catch them in the act," said Councilor Corey Belanger.