As the weather warms and July 4th is around the corner, the number of complaints about illegal fireworks use rises.

Evanston police are actively patrolling and citing individuals found in violation of a City code banning private fireworks, a Police Department representative told residents at a Seventh Ward community on June 24.

At the same time, police face challenges from their side, too, acknowledged Sgt. Scott Sophier, who heads the department’s Community Strategies unit.

“It is difficult on the enforcement end of the fireworks calls, because, quite often, just like any other either quasi-criminal event or criminal event, we do need to have evidence in order to cite someone or arrest someone for an offense,” said Sgt. Sophier, speaking at the meeting, held both virtually and in person at the Evanston Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Boulevard.

“If we don’t see something occurring and someone’s not in possession of fireworks,” police can’t bring a complaint, he said.

“And if the person that calls is not wanting to either sign a complaint, identify themselves to the officer, or be present to make an identification of somebody – and this goes beyond fireworks – it does make it difficult for us to take the enforcement that we are happy to do so when necessary,” he said.

In that vein, he said, “oftentimes police turn down a block and somebody that’s lighting off fireworks sees a police car. They’re [the individuals] walking away before the officer even knows if that’s the person that was doing it.” 

In some cases, “they’re already done with the activity before the person even calls and we respond,” he said.

He told his audience that police are doing some things proactively to counter those tactics.

“We’re undertaking a social media campaign at the start of every weekend leading into the July 4 holiday to just make folks aware of the ordinances and State statutes against fireworks,” he said, “and that the police will be enforcing it when they are able to do so.”

In addition, he said police are encouraging residents to call – the non-emergency 847-866-5000, emergency 911 – when they see the illegal activity occurring.

“You know people sometimes say, ‘Well, I wanted to wait 20 or 30 minutes to see if it was going to continue before I called,” Sgt. Sophier said. “Well, then you had to listen to it for 20, 30 minutes to see if it was going to continue.”

While people may not want to be a nuisance, he told his audience, “the earlier you call on a nuisance activity, the earlier we’re able to respond to try to mitigate that and stop that from occurring.”

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.