Police chief addresses fireworks, safety issues for upcoming holiday

The Italy Police Department, in conjunction with representatives from the Ellis County Sheriff’s Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety, held a town hall meeting in Italy Tuesday night to discuss what can be done to stop illegal fireworks from being discharged within the city limits as well as public safety. 

More than 100 people packed the Mt. Gilead Baptist Church where Pastor Preston Dixon moderated the meeting with representatives from each of the law enforcement agencies in attendance.

 Italy Police Chief Diron Hill told the group that the police department is working toward a common goal – for citizens to feel safe and secure.

Hill said he has upgraded the police department and wants to make a positive impact on the community and said officers want to change how the community looks at the department.

To begin, Hill said he has changed the hiring practices of officers and will only hire qualified police offers that want to make a difference in the community. He said they have updated policies and procedures in the department and holds officers accountable for their actions. He said they have also standardized the training program that focuses on solving problems, not just writing tickets or making arrests.

He said this is not the same police department from previous years and wants people to change their perception of the department. He said local officers have created a vision statement – uniting our community through professional police service.

Hill said that if someone files a complaint against an officer, he said the incident will be investigated and will not be “swept under the rug.” At the same time, he said officer safety is important as well.

He said he has seen several people show up at a simple traffic stop. He urged people to let the police department do their job.

He said if the department receives a legitimate complaint, they must respond to the complaint.

He pointed out that there was a shooting on Hardeman Street over the weekend. He said a small group got together and an incident at that gathering turned into “shots fired.” Hill said, “We don’t need that in our community.”

The police chief said the city has had issues with fireworks and gunfire, especially on July 4, for many years.

He said the department doesn’t want Italy on the front page of the newspaper talking about a shooting.

Hill said the department has worked on a plan to limit vehicular traffic on Harris, Hardeman and Williams streets on July 4. He said cars are parked on the street, block the street and cruise up and down the street, creating hazardous conditions for pedestrians. He designated parking places for those that don’t live in the area at the various churches, at an open field on Williams Street and another on Hardeman Street with overflow parking on Clark Street.

Many complained about the “closing of the streets” saying they were being locked up or locked out.

Another resident asked if streets in other parts of town were being blocked. Hill said there is not the same pedestrian traffic on other streets as are on these three streets.

One man spoke up and asked why close the streets during the day. He said if the streets must be closed, to do so after dark. He added that “trouble” usually comes from people out of town.

Hill said that was the very purpose for the road closures, to keep people out that didn’t have a designated place to go.

So, Hill asked if limiting access on those roads about 6:30 or 7 p.m. would be acceptable. He asked that no one park on the street and leave a clear path to houses in the event of an emergency.

Hill again stressed that he was trying to eliminate the “cruising” along the streets in order to protect the safety of the pedestrian traffic.

The police chief stressed that those that lived in the area could come and go but vehicular traffic needed to be curtailed as much as possible since there is always a great deal of foot traffic along the streets on July 4.

He did say that the school will not allow any trespassing on school property on Harris Street.

He also reminded residents that fireworks are banned within the city limits. He said anyone with fireworks will have them confiscated.

He presented a copy of the fireworks ordinance ban adopted in June of 1995. He said this and all cities prohibit the use of fireworks within the city limits.

Someone asked the chief why people are allowed to sell fireworks if they cannot be discharged.

He told them they needed to talk with their state representative about that but said fireworks can be discharged outside city limits unless a burn ban has been enacted by the county commissioners court. He said this is often the case about that time of the year due to the dry conditions.

Officer Tierra Mooney announced that the department has gotten a fireworks show scheduled the weekend following July 4 at Upchurch Field. She said there will be a softball game between the police department and the fire department. Following the game, a professional fireworks show will be held.

She said admission is free but they are seeking donations for the Shop with a Cop fundraiser held each December.

There was some dissention from residents in the area but Pastor Dixon reminded those in attendance that the chief’s main concern is for security and safety of the residents. He urged residents to “police ourselves.” He said some people were disrespecting the elders by being loud and disorderly at 2 or 3 in the morning. He said, “One or two bad apples can make it bad for everybody.”

He urged everyone to take a deep breath and think about this situation with a cool mind.

He said local residents need to let the police know when there were out of town people around that didn’t belong. He said, “We need to help each other.”

A representative from the Texas Department of Public Safety said he has been in and out of Ellis County since 1997. He said it’s the same thing happening every year.

He said this is change the chief is proposing and said people don’t like change but added that the chief is taking time to talk with residents.

He, too, stressed the fact that he doesn’t want the city on the front page of the newspaper on July 5th.

Dixon said shootings occur and said bullets are real and bullets don’t have a name on them.

Hill said he is willing to listen to an alternative plan but said he wants 2012 to be the year they turn things around in Italy.

He said, in the past, people have thrown fireworks inside the police car, under the police car and have thrown bricks at the fire truck. Hill said that kind of behavior will result in prosecution but said that is not their focus. The focus is for the whole community to have a safe July 4.

Hill said the department did not want to intrude on family gatherings but wanted to see everyone enjoy their July 4. 

They decided to come back together in three weeks. Hill said anyone with concerns can address them to his department before that time.