Albany County Legislature Chair On Fireworks "Mistake," Gun Violence | WAMC

Albany County Legislature Chair On Fireworks "Mistake," Gun Violence

Jun 29, 2020

Albany County Legislature Chair Andrew Joyce says he made a mistake when he voted for a local law legalizing sparklers in 2016. With communities across the Northeast now grappling with fireworks popping off at all hours, Joyce this morning announced an effort to roll back the county’s participation in the legal sale of small fireworks. Joyce, a Democrat, spoke with WAMC’s Ian Pickus.

We're essentially opting out of a law that we opted into back in 2016, which allowed for the sale of sparklers in Albany County.

And is there support for that on the legislature already?

Right. Well, I think what I liken this to is Pandora's Box in Albany County. We opted in for the sale of sparklers. And what we expected wasn't what ended up showing up in stores. Some of these items are pretty large, they're very loud. We'd expected that they would be these sparklers that children run around with and they're small but they make a lot of noise. And I think what happened over the years is that illegal fireworks kind of made their way into the mix somehow, some way. And it just kind of it blew up, pretty much for lack of a better way of saying it. So we've gotten a lot of complaints, especially within the city. And it's hard for law enforcement to discern between what is legal and what isn't. So they have nuisance calls. And it's just, it's been everywhere. So we're hoping opting out, instead of opting in is going to allow for us to be able to get a better handle on it. And going forward, they'll be able to figure out what's illegal, what isn't legal, and they can make sure that we get some of these illegal fireworks off the street. So law enforcement can know what to go after and what not to. Also, it just makes things a bit clearer for people in the neighborhoods.

So does opting out take effect immediately, or does this have to be done on a vote?

No. Unfortunately, it's not going to be take effect immediately or in July. The revision to the law has to be introduced in July. I will send it to a committee for review in July and it could take effect in the next two to three months.

So you did something that's pretty unusual for an elected official and you came out and said that supporting this measure a few years ago was a mistake. What did you originally envision and what has changed from that original plan?

Right? Well, I think I think it's important to self-reflect and be critical of your actions and you don't always get things right. And like I said before, what I was envisioning for a sparkler opt in was just that sparklers, and the kind of little sparklers children can run around with and like I had mentioned previously, what had shown up in the stores after the fact was a bit unexpected, very large, very loud. So you need to, in anything, you need to be able to take a step back and look at what has been done. If you need to make a change, you need to do that. And we're taking the opportunity to do that now. So in order to just to kind of alleviate all the all the complaints that we're getting over the fireworks in the cities.

Meantime, it's Fourth of July week. And obviously, public officials are expecting a lot of fireworks to be set off in the next few days. Is there anything that can be done in the meantime, before this law to kind of cut down on the amount and the type of fireworks that we're seeing?

Now? I'm not sure. But I think what we're doing now is we're sending a message like we understand that the, the fireworks in and of themselves, I mean, this, like I said before, it's like Pandora's box, we've hopped into the sparklers and there's illegal fireworks getting mixed in. And so what we're doing is we're sending a message we're standing with law enforcement, we're identifying the problem. We see it as a problem, given all the complaints that we've received, so we're hoping that people will get the message at least initially and be responsible with what they're doing and be more respectful of their neighbors. We're going to have an individual from the Veterans Affairs talking about, you know, the effect that fireworks have on folks that suffer from PTSD, not only military, but otherwise. I've served in the military, I don't particularly enjoy a random mortar going off. So I just think we're sending a message at this point, that we've identified the problem. We're going to fix what we've done, and hopefully that will give people some peace of mind over the next couple of months.

Just one more thing, while I have you. You know, recently the county legislature and the county sheriff have been allocating some deputies from the sheriff's office to help the city of Albany as it patrols amid a rash of gun violence this summer. From your perspective as the chair of the legislature, how is that county city partnership going so far in these early days?

Oh, Sheriff Apple’s very flexible. He's got good people in his department. This came at the request of the city of Albany. I have no expectation other than everyone's acting professionally and doing everything they're supposed to be doing. This is just kind of like a presence patrol. We're here and we're augmenting the Albany police department. I haven't gotten any reporting back. But I think things have been quiet over the past couple of days, which I hope that maintains and that stays that way. And I hope having deputies in the city of Albany has helped contribute to that.