Harlingen man worries about police "discretion" against firework violators

Fireworks have long been a part of 4th of July Festivities.

But safety concerns have prompted most cities across the Rio Grande Valley to ban them.

A retired school teacher, who only wants to be identified as "Steve," believes the ban is bogus in the City of Harlingen.

"He said it's at the officer's discretion," Steve described about a phone call he had with the Harlingen police chief. "In my humble opinion that is code for doing nothing."

For the last 15 years, Steve claims the problem with fireworks near his 5-acre lot on the south side of the city has only gotten worse.

"All it takes is a bottle rocket or a Roman candle to set a roof on fire," he said.

But it's not just property damage that he's worried about.

"I had a friend years ago that had an eye put out from a bottle rocket."

With Independence Day around the corner, Steve is removing stuff like wood from his land that can catch fire from a stray firework.

He calls the action necessary because police have given him the impression of "selective" enforcement.

"Since when can officers decide what laws can be enforced and what not to enforce?" Steve asked.

Action 4 News posed that very question to Harlingen police Spokesperson Lieutenant David Osborne.

"Police discretion is used in every step of law enforcement," he answered. "In fact, in the State of Texas, there are only a few laws that require the law to take a certain type of action."

The Lt. says the flexibility allows for education and a warning for first time offenders.

It also frees up manpower to go after repeat violators or those with large firework displays, instead of citing someone with a sparkle who likely poses less of a danger to the community, according to Lt. Osborne.

"To go out blindly and just give a citation every time there is a firework infraction, without any type of education, is not what community policing is all about."

Perhaps the most common example of officer discretion deals with traffic violations.

Harlingen police have pulled over more than 4,400 drivers in May 2012.

Of those stopped, more than half received warnings with about 1,700 being ticketed, according to police statistics.

Harlingen police will have extra patrol on the 4th of July.

Violators face a potential fine.

Steve isn't ready to celebrate the news just yet.

"Stay in the house and have the fire hose ready."

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