Residents in some Long Beach neighborhoods have already been hearing late-night blasts ahead of the July 4 holiday, but city officials say their efforts to curb illegal fireworks have reduced the problem significantly since 2020.
In a memo to the City Council earlier this month, City Manager Tom Modica attributed the sharp decrease in fireworks-related calls for service since 2020 to the city’s “coordinated efforts,” including more community outreach, an easy way for people to report fireworks activity to the city and higher penalties of up to $20,000 for offenders.
All fireworks are illegal in Long Beach, including the “safe and sane” types that are sold in some nearby cities; officials instead encourage residents to throw block parties or attend one of several sanctioned public fireworks displays.
But that hasn’t stopped some residents from having DIY fireworks shows.
After fielding about 2,200 calls for service about fireworks in 2019, the city saw a four-fold increase in 2020 to more than 8,800 calls, according to the memo. The number of calls shrank to just under 4,400 in 2021 and about 2,500 last year. (Data was not provided on how many calls the city has gotten so far in 2023.)
Long Beach police have also seized thousands of illegal fireworks since 2020, and the city has handed out dozens of citations, the city memo said.
But the biggest penalty—a fine that could run into thousands of dollars and is intended to recover the cost of police, fire and any other response to illegal fireworks—has never been handed out since the council implemented it in 2021.
Since it’s nearly impossible for police or firefighters to get to a scene in time to witness someone setting off illegal fireworks, the city encourages residents to send tips and evidence, including addresses where the pyrotechnics are happening.
When they have the information, the city can send a letter to whoever “hosted” the fireworks, whether that’s a property owner or tenant, to let them know they could be liable for the cost of public safety response. Deputy City Attorney Art Sanchez said Thursday that no such letters have been sent out this year.
“That’s been the tough part of all this is to be able to pinpoint a location where this firework activity is occurring,” he said. “(The police and fire departments) have been doing their best, but they haven’t had the information to hold anyone accountable.”
Citations have been falling too. The City Manager’s memo noted that fireworks-related criminal cases and citations dropped from 84 in 2020 to 27 in 2022, and City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said he expects to see “far fewer” citations this year compared with 2020.
Through a spokesperson, the Long Beach Police Department declined to make anyone available for an interview. But Sanchez and Haubert agreed that illegal fireworks seem to be less of a problem than they were in 2020.
“I know that the reports I get from the public are declining,” Haubert said. “I do believe that several things the city is doing are making an impact.”
Police typically flood the city during the holiday, in part to deter illegal fireworks. The department spokesperson urged residents to call police dispatch (562-435-6711) if they see suspicious or illegal activity, and to submit fireworks complaints through the Go Long Beach app or website.