ST. JOSEPH — Having St. Joseph’s fireworks on July 3 instead of July 4 this year received high marks from law enforcement officers, city commissioners heard Monday, who recommend continuing the practice next year.
St. Joseph Public Safety Director Steve Neubecker called the July 3 fireworks a “huge success” and said it was the best crowd for fireworks he has seen in his 25 years on the force, in terms of the behavior of the audience and traffic.
While downtown and the beach was busy, there were no arrests for theft, liquor violations or drug offenses, Neubecker said. Officers did write 113 parking tickets, he noted.
City officials decided to switch the date for the fireworks to the same night as other communities in the hope that it would ease congestion. Having the fireworks on July 3 instead of Independence Day also meant that people who worked the next day didn’t have to stay up late. They were launched earlier, at 10 p.m., as well.
Neubecker recommended keeping the date July 3, which will be a Friday next year. Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey agreed with Neubecker. He said that, along with St. Joseph, things went smoothly for the displays in South Haven and Baroda on the same night.
Some residents complained that they wouldn’t be able to see both the St. Joseph and Baroda fireworks, as in the past. People who really like fireworks could see them July 3 and on the Fourth in Eau Claire or Berrien Springs, Bailey said.
As for the fireworks themselves, resident Janet Dykstra, owner of Kilwin’s ice cream and a donor for the fireworks, said she was “disappointed” by most of the pyrotechnics, although she said the finale was great. “I’m just being honest.”
Gloria Mance, a former member of the Parks Commission, disagreed and said she thought the entire exhibition was great, and worth the extra money spent.
City Manager John Hodgson said 40 percent more shells were fired than last year.
Good behavior seemed to be running rampant. Even the annual Red Bud motocross event over the weekend only saw two arrests, Bailey reported.
“I guess we’ll wave our magic wand for the same thing to happen next year,” Bailey joked.
Commissioner Laura Goos said that traffic seemed to flow better this year. Goos lives on Wayne Street, and said they didn’t see the cars parked there like in previous years.
And even though stores were “packed,” it was not unmanageable, she said.
Commissioner Lynn Todman lives below the bluff, and even though she braced herself for the typical traffic back-ups, she was “shocked” that they didn’t occur this year.
Hodgson said having reserve officers in place to direct traffic near Silver Beach, and cones to steer vehicles in the right direction, made a difference.
“It’s not perfect, but it was better than in past years,” Hodgson said.
Bailey said other beaches saw major traffic back-ups, with cars waiting to get into Warren Dunes lined up all the way to Red Arrow Highway.
Bailey said Silver Beach was packed for the weekend, with the parking lot closing at noon on the Fourth. But major problems were avoided by having extra deputies on patrol, he said. Ten tickets were issued to people who brought alcohol to the beach, and those folks were escorted off the property, the sheriff said, under the county’s “zero tolerance” policy.
There was on citation for careless driving, two arrests under previous warrants, and a citation for a person under 21 smoking marijuana. That person was also kicked off the beach, Bailey said. His department is using more cameras to further monitor the beach.