Every year on July 3 and 4, Illinois residents flock to massive fireworks displays to watch things blow up in celebration of America's independence. But many of them may find smaller-scale displays right on their block -- even though in Illinois, it's illegal for most people to use America's favorite form of explosive entertainment.
As the holiday weekend approaches, here are the facts on how fireworks are dealt with across the state.
Q What fireworks are legal in Illinois?
A The mundane stuff: "Novelty fireworks" such as sparklers, smoke bombs, snakes and party poppers are all that's allowed without applying for special permits.
"Basically, if it goes 'boom' or 'bang,' it's considered an explosive, and that's a violation," said Sgt. John Nebl of the Schaumburg Police Department.
Local authorities have the right to ban novelty fireworks too -- Chicago has banned sparklers, and in the Cook County Forest Preserve District, "nothing is allowed at all," according to preserve spokesman Steve Mayberry.
Even if you have a permit to use professional fireworks like those at the city's Friday show -- which requires insurance coverage of at least $1 million -- bottle rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers are illegal in Illinois no matter what.
Q How actively do the police look for illegal fireworks?
A That depends on where you are. Of the departments reached by the Tribune, most just ask their officers to watch for fireworks while they go about their normal duties.
But the Schaumburg Police Department sends two cars out on July 4 just to deal with fireworks complaints, Nebl said. Having those officers address fireworks enforcement lets the rest of the force focus on normal duties.
The Aurora Police Department replies urgently to many fireworks calls, because they're often called in as gunshots, Sgt. Bill Rowley said.
"We take shots fired a lot more seriously," Rowley said. "We have to respond to them as if they're a shooting."
Q If "someone I know" gets caught using fireworks, what's going to happen?
A Unless you've got a huge arsenal, you'll probably get just a fine. Again, though, the size of the fine can vary depending on where you get caught. In Chicago, fines range from $200 to $500, according to the city code.
In Naperville, fines start at $75 -- but "if you come across a huge stash, then I'm sure the fine would be substantially higher," said Police Sgt. Gregg Bell.
In the Cook County Forest Preserve District, tickets come with an automatic court date, and judges' fines can range from $25 to $500, Mayberry said.
In Aurora, the first time you're caught, the fine is $250; each time you're cited after that, the fine goes up $100, to a maximum of $950, according to Rowley and the city's code.
If you have a large amount of illegal fireworks, or you've been selling them illegally, you might get arrested, but the police departments reached by the Tribune said that's rare.
Q What happens to my fireworks if they're confiscated?
A The Cook County sheriff's police destroys fireworks from most of the county's suburbs.
"We have the only full-time bomb squad outside of Chicago in Cook County," said sheriff's police spokeswoman Lisa Gordon.
So far this year, Gordon said the sheriff's police have taken 3,000 pounds of confiscated fireworks. In 2008, the bomb squad ended up with more than 14,000 pounds.
In Naperville, Bell said confiscated fireworks from the 25 to 50 yearly infractions are usually kept in storage as evidence before they're eventually destroyed.
Q Where are these illegal fireworks coming from, anyway?
A Most police departments that were contacted believe the source of the problem is Illinois' neighboring states, rather than black-market local sales. Of the neighboring states closest to Chicago, Indiana has the laxest laws, allowing anyone over 18 to buy just about anything short of professional-caliber pyrotechnics.
"I would venture to say that most of them come from the neighboring states," said Chicago Police Officer JoAnn Taylor. But unfortunately, she said, "there's no problem with going over there to get your gas, get your cigarettes, get your fireworks."
But pyromaniacs be warned: If you set off illegal fireworks, Chicagoland's police might blow up your holiday weekend.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun