Family implores Dothan Police to enforce fireworks ordinance

DPD explains policy on priority holiday calls
We spoke to a Wiregrass family who questions the strength of the "No Fireworks Ordinance" in the city of Dothan.
Updated: Jun. 30, 2023 at 5:45 PM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Independence Day celebrates our nation’s freedom.

Shooting fireworks outside Dothan city limits is one of those freedoms, but within the city, it’s a different story.

One Dothan family questions the strength of the no-fireworks ordinance.

For some, the boom of fireworks is the soundtrack of cookouts, ice cream, and the beach but for Jessika Harris and her daughter Olivia, it strikes a different chord—fear.

Like many children, Olivia plays video games and spends time outside with her dogs. But her introduction to the world wasn’t as picturesque.

“She ended up having a stroke inside my belly, and then they did an emergency c-section and took her out. She was two months premature,” Harris explained.

It was the heartbreaking start of an expensive medical journey for the Harris family, full of spinal surgeries, neurologists, and doctor visits across the country.

“You’re just kind of thrown into this world of unfamiliarness, and of course, you want to prepare yourself for everything for your child and be as knowledgable and educated on everything,” Harris said.

Olivia experiences what is called absence seizures. They cause her body to freeze up and there is nothing she can do but wait until it passes.

“It makes my brain hurt and my stomach,” Olivia Harris said.

Olivia’s seizures are triggered by loud noises—like fireworks.

Holidays like the Fourth of July and New Year’s are dreaded in the Harris house. Jessika’s husband served in the military and, after years of hearing the sounds of gunfire while fighting for his country, now suffers from PTSD.

“For us it’s a nightmare… a nightmare,” Jessika said of the holidays. “We live inside the city limits which comes with protections.”

The Harris family says those protections don’t seem to be enough.

Captain Douglas Magill with the Dothan Police Department explained how the force responds to fireworks calls.

“So what happens is the communications center will receive a phone call either a loud noise complaint or a firework or even a gunshot, and the officer is sent to go determine what it is. Based on what it is is how he’ll respond. If it’s a fireworks call the officer will more than likely, it’s his discretion, he’ll walk up and say hey you can’t have fireworks don’t do this again and give him a warning. He doesn’t have to. He can initially write a ticket, especially if he’s seen somebody commit the violation or he can confiscate the fireworks.”

Magill said that the violation of Dothan’s fireworks ordinance is a misdemeanor. If convicted, they could spend up to 150 days in jail or pay up to a $500 fine.

How often do these citations happen? “We have two different ways of issuing them,” Magill explained. “So we have hand-written and e-cites and e- cites are much easier to count.”

Public records show the department issued 14 citations last year through an electronic citation system. They did not have a record for the number of handwritten citations.

Prior to 2022, Magill said handwritten citations were more common practice, but an incident in 2021 changed that.

“Subjects there were firing bottle rockets into police cars and shooting at police cars and that kind of made it where we’re going to have to start cracking down like we did last year, and we’re going to have to do the same this year. We’re just not going to tolerate that,” Magill told News4.

Magill attributes the increase in written citations to that incident.

Systematic clarity is improving accountability but the availability of resources to track down each violator is still a hurdle, according to Magill.

“We’re going to average probably 200 extra calls this weekend on fireworks or noise calls above what’s normal. We’re going to have some extra overtime units out. What it does is it ends up taking away from the higher priority calls. and people are not getting services as fast as they need and it is truly a strain on us.”

The Harris family and Captain Magill have a common goal for this holiday weekend: safety.

“It’s not about people not being in happy moods or wanting to take somebody’s fun away. I’m just in hopes and in prayers that this reaches out to somebody enough to discourage them,” Harris said.

“I just want everyone to have a safe holiday, and I get it,” Magill told News4.

While Dothan police and the Harris family hope people across the city will consider the impact fireworks could have on others ahead of the holiday celebrations, they’re also doing what they can to make it a safe weekend.

The Harris family decided to spend the holiday in a remote area and police are warning people in the city of Dothan that they’ll be watching for fireworks in the city limits.

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