With Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer the number of complaints for fireworks begins to increase. Over the last few years our office, the Sheriff’s Office and State Parks, have received numerous complaints about fireworks – from concerns about the noise to fire and environmental concerns. The issue was raised at a recent neighborhood association meeting I attended with concerns that they are becoming more common even outside of the summer.
The largest number of complaints come around July 4, with the majority of calls from the coastal areas of our district including Rio Del Mar, Seacliff and La Selva Beach. The exact location of the discharge is often difficult to pinpoint, as the sound reverberates throughout the coastal area, but there are some known hotspot locations on state beaches and some county beaches in the unincorporated area.
Over the last few years the Sheriff’s Office has tried different enforcement approaches while the County has done a significant educational (including paid advertising outreach) to address the issue. Some of this enforcement, specifically along the coast, has caused concerns about increased fireworks activity in the more rural areas. Others have believed that when the enforcement is most directed there is a decline in activity along the coast. While others have contacted my office to express concern about the usage of law enforcement resources for fireworks in general (believing this is a low priority issue).
The County’s position has been that since fireworks, even safe and sane fireworks, are illegal in the unincorporated area, there should be enforcement on this issue. Realistically, there are significant barriers to effective enforcement: the difficulty in pinpointing the exact location of the discharge, the delay between the report and arrival of law enforcement (as people that are discharging them often leave the scene), call prioritization (if there are other active calls that officers are on then the won’t be able to respond immediately) and more. But the County is still committed to helping to reduce the issue.
Fireworks are sold legally in neighboring jurisdictions and often brought illegally into our community and fired off on the beaches, in the neighborhoods and even along the rail corridor and local parks. Over the last few years the County has increased the fines for fireworks (fireworks violations are subject to triple fines during July 4th, which means a citation can cost well over $1,000 after court costs are added on.) Additionally, working with local community groups and the Sheriff’s Office the County adopted a set of policies and approaches that included: improved tools of enforcement, better education locally, and outreach to neighboring jurisdictions that sell fireworks. Specifically, the plan included:
- Making triple fines for fireworks permanent on July 4 and other holidays (meaning possession of fireworks will cost you well over $1000 in fines and court costs)
- Visits to local high schools by the Sheriff’s Office School Resource Officer for education to students about the dangers and enforcement actions
- Producing public service announcements and other media outreach to local and regional media outlets about enforcement plans and the danger of fireworks before the summer
- Expanding digital signage near hot spot neighborhoods about enforcement
- Working with 9-1-1 dispatchers regarding how these calls are handled and also for education to the caller about the best information to provide to ensure proper enforcement
- Working with vacation rental owners to educate them about visitors bringing illegal fireworks and also the consequences associated with it
- Increasing police patrols
- Sending letters to neighboring jurisdictions that sell fireworks encouraging them to partner with us on the issues their fireworks cause
- Outreach to State Parks for improved and increased enforcement on state beaches and parks during July 4 and other peak times.
Illegal fireworks activity will continue but the goal is that this approach have a positive impact on the environmental and other issues it causes.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to call me at 454-2200 with your questions and comments.