Editorial: Pitch in to keep Detroit's fireworks safe

The Detroit News

Monday is a big day in downtown Detroit, perhaps the biggest of the year. Roughly 1 million people are expected to be along the riverfront to view the Ford Fireworks, which can lay claim to being among the best such shows in the nation.

The event brings residents from throughout Metro Detroit together in one place and for one purpose. Keeping the fireworks safe and enjoyable for all is the primary goal of the evening.

Last week saw intense and often bitter debate over whether the city's curfew for fireworks night should be tightened and extended to cover the surrounding River Days festival, which began on Friday.

Police Chief James Craig had warned that without the enhanced curfew, securing the downtown footprint would be more difficult. In the end, those who argued a tighter curfew violated civil liberties and unfairly targeted black children prevailed and the City Council voted only to lower the time limit to 8 p.m. for Monday, from its normal 11 p.m.

While the police chief's concerns are valid, council made the right decision in not imposing such oppressive restrictions.

That's particularly true since Detroit is playing host to 40,000 members of a baptist convention. The group includes 10,000 children, who could not be expected to be locked into their hotel rooms or Cobo Center beginning at 6 p.m. It would have sent a horrible message about the city's hospitality and attractiveness as a tourist destination. And the young convention visitors could not be treated differently than the city's own children.

So the enhanced curfew was impractical.

The alternative Chief Craig and business and community organizations are pursuing now makes more sense, and hopefully will work better to maintain order.

With donations from the Downtown Detroit Partnership and several of its individual members, the police department is placing along the riverfront a corps of volunteers it's calling Volunteer Angels, to connect with the highly successful Angels Night volunteer effort.

These neon-vested individuals, recruited from various groups that assist the police department in other capacities, will provide more eyes and ears to spot and help defuse trouble before it starts. Among their duties will be to reconnect lost children with their parents. Their watchfulness should free up police officers to handle more serious matters.

In addition, the NAACP and several church and community groups are stepping up efforts to provide transportation and supervision to children whose parents can't or won't get them downtown for the fireworks. The fewer unsupervised children in the downtown footprint, the fewer arrests. That was the goal of the curfew, and it can be accomplished just as well with a robust volunteer effort.

This is creative problem solving that brought together organizations with opposing views on the curfew.

This community should commit to making it work, and expanding the volunteer effort next year.

Detroit should not need to lock down the city to keep it safe.