ALBANY — Things that go bang in the night that have drawn complaints of distressed pets, military veterans and just those looking to get a good night’s sleep were a focus Tuesday for the Albany City Commission.
The lengthy work session included discussion of an ordinance setting an earlier cutoff time for fireworks in the city and the installation of a gunshot protection monitoring system that would cover part of south Albany.
Late-night eruptions of fireworks have fueled a large number of calls to commissioners from residents either irritated or concerned that the sounds could be gunshots.
“This has been talked about multiple times in our public safety (task force),” Ward IV Commissioner Chad Warbington said of the fireworks issue. “While this isn’t gun violence, there is the perception of gun violence. That’s why we get these (fireworks) calls at 10 or 11.
“The overwhelming (number of) people have told me they want to prohibit fireworks after dark.”
Fireworks would be covered under a noise ordinance that also would address loud music.
Cities cannot draft specific ordinances relating to fireworks unless they are part of a general sound and noise statute, City Attorney Nathan Davis told commissioners. Under a draft ordinance provided by Davis, legal fireworks could be used between 10 a.m. and midnight. Violations could bring a sentence of up to six months’ jail time and/or a $500 fine.
However, Warbington suggested an earlier time of 8 p.m. A Columbus ordinance sets the cutoff time at 10, while it is 9 p.m. in Macon-Bibb County, he said.
State law allows for shooting fireworks until later on certain holidays such as New Year’s and July 4.
One issue for Mayor Bo Dorough was whether enforcing the ordinance would tie up police officers.
“My concern is what’s going to happen, and I’ll give you an example: Police officers are going to be called, they’re not going to get there for 30 minutes,” he said. “The citizen is going to be upset that it takes the police 30 minutes to arrive. (Officers) could have been responding to a burglary or domestic dispute.”
Some residents, especially the elderly, are afraid to call the police, said Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard, who said he also was concerned whether the Albany Police Department has the resources to respond to a larger volume of calls
Police Chief Michael Persley told commissioners that the department could handle the work if the ordinance is enacted with the fireworks provision.
“If we catch the people doing it, yes, we can enforce it,” he said. “Though it’s an additional (duty), we’ll fit it in. We don’t know whether it will decrease it or not. We really don’t know until it’s enacted and we start working with it.”
Commissioners also are considering installing the gunshot detection device that would alert police when gunfire erupts in the city.
The technology can pinpoint the location of the nose and distinguish between gunshots and fireworks.
Installation would cost $220,000 and cover the first year, with the cost of the second year of the five-year contract set at $165,000. Years three through five would cost the city $148,000 each, Persley said.
The devices would not replace the need for a more visible police presence in parts of the city with high crime rates, Howard said.
“This may be a good thing, but I can say for a number of my constituents in east Albany, we need boots on the ground,” he said. “We need more officers on the street in some of these neighborhoods that are not a conducive environment.”
Commissioners could vote on the proposed noise ordinance and gunshot detection system later this month.