The Fourth of July and its annual commemoration of the country’s fight for freedom from tyranny has become an all-too-real reenactment for some Long Beach residents, and a report by the Long Beach Fire and Police departments on how the city aims to lessen the bombs bursting in air this year was the focus at last night’s city council meeting.
Long Beach has an all-out ban on fireworks within the city’s boundary, including the “safe and sane” type that can be purchased legally in neighboring cities like Carson and Lakewood. The proliferation of those type of fireworks and the more destructive and dangerous illegal fireworks have spurred the city into action, as council districts and the police department have been flooded with complaints over the past few years.
Eighth District Councilman Al Austin questioned whether the city’s all-inclusive ban on fireworks was to blame for the spread of the more dangerous types being purchased and used in the city.
“Whether they go boom, whether they go up in the air, whether they’re just ground flowers that are relatively harmless, I personally think we need to revisit our policy on fireworks, period,” Austin said. “I think if we go with a blanket illegal approach we probably open ourselves up to a market where the more egregious fireworks are going to be more accessible and more proliferated throughout our city.”
According to Long Beach Police Department Deputy Chief Richard Rocchi the department received 635 “pyro” calls for service in 2015 and 550 calls related to fireworks use in 2014. Last year those calls resulted in 50 citations and six arrests and the seizure of over 700 pounds of both illegal and “safe and sane” fireworks.
The Long Beach Municipal Code prohibits the use of both types of fireworks, and a person being caught using either is subject to a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. However, in order for an officer to be able to cite a person for fireworks use, Rocchi said the officer must view the person lighting the firework before they stop to write the ticket.
“It’s very difficult for us to identify and end up citing those who do light off illegal fireworks because the law requires our officers to witness the person who is lighting the firework and then citing that person if they don’t run from use prior to us being able to detain them,” Rocchi said. “Most of these occur at night in groups making it difficult for officers.”
Rochhi added that witnesses can be part of the process by calling the police and helping to identify those breaking the law, even placing them under private citizens’ arrest. It would require the person to fill out a private persons arrest form, which Rocchi said officers do carry with them.
Members of the council inquired about what other measures could be taken to help the public become more involved in the reporting process. The city currently has smartphone apps where the public can report blight, water waste and even coyote sightings and Fifth District Councilwoman Stay Mungo asked if the technology could be added to allow for residents to document and report fireworks usage.
“At least in my neighborhood it’s the same houses every year and if on my evening walk I could just tag that house and let PD know who it is and what they’re doing I think a lot of neighbors could get involved in that, especially if we as a council put that on our Twitters and our Facebook and share it on our newsletters that neighbors can do this,” Mungo said. “I think it will give PD a head start on the issue.”
A more old-school remedy was floated by Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who said the departments should look to partnering with the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) to disseminate fliers alerting students and parents of the costs associated with lighting fireworks in the city and even suggested the use of the district’s robo-call and e-newsletter capabilities.
“I think that if children are advised that this conduct is illegal, hopefully they will remind their parents who are tempted to violate the law and if nothing else at least the parents know that the children are advised that it might help curb their behavior,” Price said.
A collaborative effort is carried out by the fire and police departments annually to help combat the issues arising from the annual patriotic celebration. Arson investigators from the city’s fire department work in tandem with the police department in from July 2-4 and all officers not on a regularly scheduled day off or on vacation work the holiday. This is in addition to undercover officers working in high complaint areas to root out illegal sellers of fireworks and online media campaigns.
Still, the issue comes down to coverage and even if all officers are on duty, Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal pointed out that they will need help in catching those in the act and enforcing the city’s ban. Whether or not that solution is the development of an app could be decided in the next few months.
“Folks who want to engage in this activity will always outnumber the police officers, it’s just the way it is,” Lowenthal said. “Here we’re making a very concerted effort to do what we can but given the nature of how information is captured and transmitted today, I’m hoping that there’s some advancement that we can utilize or tap into.”