Pickerington officials plan to change the date of the city's Independence Day fireworks show in 2019, with hopes of making the event safer and more family friendly.
Pickerington Mayor Lee Gray said Oct. 4 city officials have agreed with an administrative recommendation to move the community's July Fourth fireworks display to July 3, aligning it with Columbus' Red, White & Boom! and similar celebrations held in Reynoldsburg and Whitehall.
Gray said city officials and those from Violet Township have agreed that although the fireworks will be moved to July 3, the community will continue its tradition of a parade July 4.
The parade is likely to be followed by a "small" event, possibly to include a concert and lunch offerings, in Victory Park during daytime hours.
The change doesn't require approval from Pickerington City Council, but Council Safety Committee Chairman Tony Barletta said no one on the committee opposed the recommendation at its Oct. 3 meeting.
"The (city and Violet Township) safety forces were on board and I'm pretty comfortable with what the administration is suggesting," he said
Barletta noted he has kept the July Fourth celebration on the safety committee's agenda since this year's celebration as a means to receive public input and have public discussions about how the city should move forward, but he said there was "almost none" in terms of public feedback.
The move comes after incidents the past two years in Victory Park during the community's celebration, which traditionally has featured a parade the morning of July Fourth, followed by entertainment at the park and the community's fireworks display at dusk.
In 2017, panicked attendees ran to exit Victory Park during the celebration after several teens reportedly yelled gunshots had been fired. There were no shots fired.
This year, a fight between teens in the park's shelter house resulted in a bystander sustaining a broken leg after the teens fell on him.
Police were able to transport the 42-year-old victim to a nearby Violet Township Fire Station for treatment but not before a crowd of approximately 75 people reportedly became hostile with roughly 10 officers who responded to the scene to disperse the crowd and attend to the injured man.
That incident was captured on video and published on various social media sites.
After this year's Independence Day celebration, Pickerington police Chief Mike Taylor stated in his post-event debriefing report "nearly a dozen" potential fights were broken up by police, and the department received "numerous" complaints of marijuana use in the park.
The report stated all of the department's officers have been enlisted to provide security during the event or for patrols of the city's streets and, "... Even with the requirement that all officers work this day, our agency is still unable to adequately staff this event."
In each of this year's incidents, people living outside Pickerington and Violet Township were identified as perpetrators, police officials said. Taylor said between 7,000 and 8,000 people attended the parade and fireworks.
Gray said the 2019 plan to hold the fireworks July 3 is an attempt to reduce crowds and outsiders who might seek to cause trouble in the park.
"Unfortunately, we have to change something to put us in a position of success and, hopefully, to provide a higher level of security and to make people feel safe," Gray said.
Pickerington police Cmdr. Tod Cheney said local safety forces are on board with the plan.
"We are 100 percent behind it," Cheney said. "Some of the other communities around us have had success with moving their fireworks to July 3, especially with reducing some of the incidents they've had in the past."
Cheney said police officials hope holding the fireworks on the same day as Red, White & Boom! and Reynoldsburg and Whitehall will reduce the size of the crowd Pickerington gets for its display.
He said the move also might allow other law-enforcement agencies, including the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office, to provide mutual-aid security assistance July 3 because many communities in the county hold their celebrations July 4.
Cheney said the move by Pickerington could slightly reduce costs for Pickerington, which this year spent $20,000 for security at the event. While calculations haven't been finalized, he noted officers receive holiday pay to work July 4, but would receive a lower rate of overtime for their work July 3.
Council President Jeff Fix previously was opposed to breaking city tradition, stating Independence Day should be celebrated July 4.
He said he regretted moving the fireworks to July 3 , but supported the decision.
"I am disappointed that a handful of bad actors have had a negative impact on our most treasured national holiday with regard to how it will be celebrated going forward," Fix said.
"That being said, the administration -- the police chief, city manager and mayor -- have the responsibility to make sure that all our celebrations are safe and family friendly," he said.
"So, I support their decision to move the fireworks even though I am incredibly disappointed that it's come to that."