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Explosive-sniffing dogs recommended to ferret out illegal fireworks

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A state task force formed to stop the import of illegal fireworks has recommended a cargo inspection program using explosive-sniffing dogs.

Sen. Will Espero, co-chairman of the task force, said the state currently has no program to inspect domestic cargo for illegal explosives. He said he is already drafting laws to start the dog inspection program.

Maritime shippers conduct random checks on less than 5 percent of incoming domestic containers, but do not look for explosives, Espero said. Instead, they only look to ensure the sender is being charged properly.

"Of the 200,000 containers that are coming in from our domestic ports today, zero percent are inspected for explosives," Espero said. "The big gaping hole is the domestic containers."

Foreign shipments are already being inspected, and the state Department of Agriculture inspects agricultural products. Beginning this year, the Federal Aviation Administration will begin inspecting air shipments.

Experts said they suspect most illegal fireworks reach the islands through domestic containers.

Explosive-sniffing dogs could close that hole that, but start up costs for such a program remains a challenge. It could cost $70,000 to $80,000 a year for each dog and its handler.

Espero is eyeing homeland security grants for the program and is also working on legislation to give the state Department of Transportation and the state Department of Defense the authority to conduct cargo inspections.

But not all task force members were happy with the final report released Tuesday.

Jerald Farley, executive director of the Consumer Fireworks Safety Association, said the recommendations will never get past the issue of funding and constitutional protections regarding searches.

He suggested better enforcement of fireworks laws combined with the repeal of Act 170, the state law that allows counties to come up with their own fireworks rules.

Oahu’s ban of fireworks while other counties allow them only increases the demand for illegal fireworks from the black market, he said.

The 36-page report was compiled after six months of discussion with law enforcement, lawmakers, industry representatives, and government agencies.

"It was a very satisfying effort," Espero said, adding that funding for law enforcement and education of the public may also help stop the use of illegal aerials.

 

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