Recent tragic events in Boston have brought additional unwanted attention to the retail fireworks trade. As you may recall, just a few years prior, another misanthrope appeared in New York City’s Times Square with a utility van reportedly packed with consumer fireworks wired to cause mayhem and injury to innocent victims. Each of these events, not surprisingly, provides fodder for commentators to argue that further restrictions and controls over consumer fireworks are required.
Seemingly, anti-fireworks interests are operating under the theory that further restrictions—including an outright ban—will prevent criminals from obtaining consumer fireworks to misuse, without consideration to the fact that most of the contents of a consumer fireworks device, by weight, are harmless. In fact, the Boston bombers had deliberately dismantled the consumer fireworks they had purchased and proceeded to collect the explosive powder contents. In this important respect, criminals recognize that when it comes to using consumer fireworks for criminal purposes the parts are, oftentimes, greater than the whole. This fact also permits one to determine that finished consumer fireworks are not the objective of criminals but, rather, the explosive contents. Under these facts, to ban consumer fireworks is akin to throwing out the baby with the bath water. Moreover, criminals will only proceed to find other avenues and sources to obtain explosives outside the consumer fireworks industry, which will likely make detection and monitoring harder for law enforcement.
The consumer fireworks industry, through effective, yet sensitive, public education can overcome any stigma associated with being unfairly portrayed in the court of public opinion as a terrorists’ ‘go-to’ source for explosive materials and, instead, position itself as an industry intent on partnering with law enforcement to deter and prevent acts of terrorism.
Gone relatively unnoticed in the press accounts of these terrorist activities is the fact that a swift resolution in each instance was achieved with the active assistance of relevant members of the fireworks industry. By providing access to records relating to sales, including surveillance tapes, for inspection, law enforcement officials were then able to track down the offenders. To its credit, the fireworks industry was indispensable to the efforts of law enforcement in the Boston incident, while also providing invaluable assistance regarding the earlier New York City incident. In sum, the industry has established a positive track-record in terms of partnering with law enforcement to capture criminals.
The ever-increasing prevalence of video surveillance has resulted in law enforcement investigators routinely canvassing local business owners in search of video surveillance tape recordings of criminal activity. Indeed, it is hard to overstate the value of video-camera surveillance by members of the private sector in solving criminal investigations. Due to its density, among other reasons, New York City has the dubious honor of being saturated with cameras, only a small fraction of which are being operated by law enforcement. In the public sector, we are all familiar with convenience stores such as 7-11, and gas stations, which routinely rely upon video cameras for security purposes, and to deter crime; countless other businesses also rely upon video cameras for the same reasons.
If we accept the reality that investigations involving the misuse of fireworks includes, oftentimes, law enforcement officials canvassing local retailers of consumer fireworks, It stands to reason that the fireworks industry is indispensable to the investigation of criminal incidents, and the apprehension of criminals; and, in theory, this will remain fact until such time as criminals stop relying upon consumer fireworks to pursue their criminal acts.
Before consumer fireworks is tagged with the underserved reputation of being a terrorists’ preferred vendor, the consumer fireworks industry needs to continue to maintain its deserved reputation of providing material assistance to the successful apprehension of all criminals, including terrorists. To enhance the partnership by and between the consumer fireworks industry and law enforcement, the consumer fireworks industry should consider adopting as a best practice rigorous standards providing for video camera surveillance at all outlets at the point of purchase, and also maintaining digital video tapes for a minimum period of four to six months. Law enforcement cannot be everywhere, which is one of the primary arguments law enforcement relies on when proposing implementing video cameras; so it stands to reason that by having the private sector to rely upon to share the burden of enhancing public safety—through video cameras operated by private citizens and businesses—law enforcement is indebted to the private operators.
Presently, many fireworks retailers have video surveillance systems at the point-of-purchase, and elsewhere; and some retailers make it a practice to identify and qualify individuals who desire to make an unusually large purchase or desire to purchase only one item in unusually large quantities. The practice of video surveillance should be industry-wide, and the airline industry is a suitable example: federal security is afforded all airports regardless of size on the grounds that a small, remote, commercially-operated airport is as susceptible to terrorist infiltration as its largest counterparts. This same principle is equally applicable to the distribution of consumer fireworks.
The cost to the retailer is likely to be $200 to $500: a video camera suitable for point-of-purchase installation (without night vision and without weather-proofing) can be purchased for around $50, while the digital video recorder can be obtained for under $200. While retailers may want to install numerous cameras throughout the premises, the purpose of multiple cameras is to deter shoplifting, whereas a single camera aimed at the cash register(s) will record the identity of all purchasers which, importantly, can be later retrieved and cross-referenced with the cash register sales tape to assist in identifying any person(s) of interest. To summarize, you have a copy of the purchase receipt and a picture of the person and, more likely than not, a highly appreciative law enforcement official.
In conclusion, the consumer fireworks industry can enhance its relationship with law enforcement, and the court of public opinion, by implementing camera surveillance at the point-of-purchase and maintaining the tapes for a reasonable period of time, all for the express purpose of assisting law enforcement in deterring crime and, similarly, in capturing criminals.