Police chief pleads for safe Fourth

Stacey Cotton

Stacey Cotton

COVINGTON -- As public safety director for the city, Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton and his team have put together a plan to ensure that residents enjoy Sunday's Independence in the Park 2011 event.

"We'll have a good contingent of public safety out for the July 3 event with fireworks on the Square and music starting from about 3 o'clock. We want to encourage everybody to come out for that and people can know that they'll be safe and secure. We want them to know they can come out and have a good time in the city," Cotton said, adding that representatives from the police, fire department, EMS and 911 will be on hand. "I'm really excited about the plan we've put together for public safety to make sure we can keep the traffic flowing so that people can have an enjoyable night."

Cotton said that traffic enforcement would be in effect as it usually is, but he is urging people to refrain from mixing alcohol with driving or other holiday activities such as boating or swimming.

"A good, fun afternoon can turn into a tragedy if people don't use their heads, and sometimes we see those tragedies around the Fourth of July," he cautioned.

He said he would remind folks who come to the Square for the music and fireworks that Covington has an open container law.

"No alcohol will be involved," he said.

And, he said he anticipates that there will be plenty of residents who will enjoy the fireworks from afar.

"If you don't want to come down to the Square and hear the music, but want to see the fireworks, you don't have to crowd down to the Square," he said. "There will be plenty of places around the city to see the fireworks. They're going to be shot off behind the Courthouse Annex on that vacant lot between there and Stallings Street, so parking lots like Newton Plaza, Morgan Plaza, the old Walmart (Antiques & Stuff) on Pace Street ... there should be plenty of places to watch the fireworks.

He said there would be no parking allowed on the interstate nor any street that doesn't allow on-street parking.

"One of my biggest fears is if we get a big crush of people, folks might block lanes of traffic ... We need to be able to keep the streets open and passable because not everybody is going to be able to watch fireworks and we might have a need for emergency equipment to move through," Cotton said.

And he said, wherever people opted to park, they should not litter.

"I want to encourage citizens to make sure that they are aware if they're on somebody else's property, they have to treat it nice and not leave their stuff behind. Enjoy the fireworks, but leave it like you found it," he said.

Cotton said the streets around the Square would be closed beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday and not reopen until the early morning hours Monday as preparation and clean-up for the event are conducted. There will be plainly marked detour signs, he said.

He also noted that caution should be used when shooting off any personal fireworks.

"Even though we've had some afternoon rain showers, it's still extremely dry and they could start a fire," he said. "And don't use any other fireworks other than what you see in these tents for sale because if it's an illegal or banned firework, you could be charged."

Another problem that he said seems to be on the increase is the custom of firing guns into the air at times of celebration.

"It's a dangerous activity. Where the bullet goes up, it has to come down and, unfortunately, it might come down and strike a person and kill somebody," he warned, adding that over New Year's there were two incidents in the city of bullets entering homes and coming dangerously close to causing injury.

He cited the example of 4-year-old Marquel Peters who died in DeKalb County on New Year's in 2010 while sitting in church playing with a video game when a bullet came through the roof and struck him in the head.

"God forbid we should have anything like that happen in Covington, but we actually had one bullet come through the roof of one of the houses last New Year's and landed in a chair where the lady normally would sit," he said.

Cotton said he would ask anyone who observes someone shooting a gun within the city limits, which in itself is illegal, to call 911 and give them as much information about the incident as possible. The report can be taken anonymously if desired.

"Normally what happens is somebody shoots and then they run inside their house and hide their gun. We get a call of shots fired and then we come riding by and they're gone," he said. "It's an extremely difficult thing to catch, but with the citizens' help, we can hopefully make a case."

Cotton said his desire and that of his staff is that everyone stays safe.

"If you want to hear loud noises and see some fireworks, walk or ride up to the Square on July 3 and watch the professionals do it," he said. "We'll have a great time, and let's keep the guns safe like we should."