EDITOR'S NOTE: For clarification, we would like to reiterate that the City of Chipley states most of the fireworks offenders in past years were from out of town. The City has recently applauded local families such as the Hooks family for holding July 4 firework traditions and keeping those events safe and family friendly.
CHIPLEY – With the July 4 holiday now less than a month away, the City of Chipley is working with community leaders in hopes of promoting family-friendly celebrations and deterring a repeat of dangerous behavior that occurred on the holiday in 2019 and 2020.
In both years, law enforcement and eyewitnesses state revelers in the city’s upper east side were purposefully aiming projectile fireworks at passersby and law enforcement, as well as at vehicles and into homes. Old Bonifay Road, Anderson Street, Coggin Avenue, and Church Avenue are reported to have experienced the most impact.
Mayor Tracy Andrews said that instead of focusing on the negative events from past holidays, the City has brought local pastors and other community leaders into the conversation in an effort promote a positive July 4 experience.
“We are well aware of the negative things that can happen, but it is our desire to encourage the community to safely have fun with their family and friends,” Mayor Andrews said in the City’s June 3 workshop.
“I feel like a lot of the people causing the issues were from out of town, and with some community effort, we can suppress a lot of that.”
Council woman Linda Cain stresses that while the City is approaching the issue in a positive manner, there are expectations.
“We won’t tolerate fireworks being shot at houses or people,” said Cain.
Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill in April 2020 that allowed holiday-specific exceptions to be made to Florida’s ban on fireworks, legalizing them for New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and July 4. While Chipley does have an ordinance that prohibits the use of fireworks – a local rule which is not superseded by the exception to the state ban – Chipley Police Chief Scott Thompson states his focus is simply to keep everyone safe.
“There is a City ordinance that says you can’t have fireworks, but [preventing the use of fireworks altogether] isn’t our primary goal,” Chief Thompson. “The potential issues were narrowed down to a small area, and we are dealing with covering that area. The Mayor’s idea is a good one, and we are going to work with her and the community leaders to help deter [a repeat of past behavior].”
Chipley resident Cheryl McCall said after witnessing some of the mayhem last year, she believes the City’s approach isn’t proactive and voiced her objection in a letter written to the City after the May meeting.
“I was very disappointed and disheartened to hear that the City Council, along with the Chipley Police Department, do not have a viable and enforceable plan for July 4,” wrote McCall. “While I understand working with community leaders is a piece of the plan, it in no way will stop what happened last year.”
“The mortars went off from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. last year,” McCall added during the June work-shop, “and they weren’t in any way harmless.”
Mayor Andrews says she has faith the community will work together to ensure this year’s holiday is safe one.
“It will take a lot of hard work,” she said, “but we are up for the challenge.”