From looking at the social media posts and comments, lawlessness and anarchy prevailed this Fourth of July.
Despite extensive public awareness campaigns regarding illegal fireworks, a lot of people chose to break the law by setting off illegal fireworks.
Many neighborhoods sounded like a war zone.
I know it felt like that in my neighborhood. From just before sunset until the wee hours of the morning the sound of explosions and aerial fireworks were constant.
Yes, we all know “dangerous” fireworks are illegal in California but the law didn’t seem to deter many people from setting them off.
Police departments across the region were swamped with calls for service for illegal fireworks in addition to the regular calls associated with holiday weekends. Many agencies deployed special fireworks details to deal with the increased calls for service.
Of course there are people complaining about police failing to deal with illegal fireworks. With hundreds of calls coming in it makes it a bit hard to keep up.
Years ago I worked and supervised the fireworks detail. Not an enviable assignment.
I still recall the tears in kids eyes when the “mean” police officers issued Dad a citation and confiscated his illegal fireworks. Of course there were always comments along the lines of “Don’t you have more important things to do?”
So what’s the big deal?
Number one: Aerial fireworks, firecrackers, M-80’s, etc.… are against the law. That’s right, there are laws against them. For very good reason. They aren’t safe.
In Santa Ana a man had his hand amputated by an illegal firework. In Long Beach a 17-year-old teen had a hand amputated during a fireworks accident. In a tragic case in Compton a nine-year-old girl had one hand amputated and another severely damaged by an illegal firework.
This doesn’t even address the hundreds of other associated injuries treated by hospital emergency rooms in the area.
Do people even consider the message you send to kids when Dad is out in the middle of the street lighting off a roman candle? “Yes, son they are illegal. But the law doesn’t apply to us.”
Number two: It drives pets nuts. I mean really nuts. Do you know how many dogs have to be tranquilized every 4th of July? According to the animal shelter dozens of dogs end up at the shelter after running away due to anxiety and stress. People love their pets and watching them go through the stress is disconcerting.
Number three: It’s inconsiderate. In a unique campaign Military with PTSD distributed thousands of signs for veterans suffering from PTSD. The signs are meant to educate the public on the effects of fireworks on combat veterans with PTSD.
In an editorial post the Omaha Police Department lamented on the lack of consideration of the public despite the signs. “In advance of Independence Day we asked nicely for people to be considerate of pets and veterans. Not sure what happened but it seems as if that request fell on deaf ears.”
So what should cities do?
Enforcing the law is resource intensive. Issuing even one citation takes time. Observing the violation, detaining the violator, conducting interviews, and collecting evidence all take time. At most one unit can probably only do a handful of citations on a shift.
In the meantime, officers can hear and see the explosions going on all over the place.
Extensive public education and enforcement don’t seem to be working.
When thousands of people insist on breaking the law, there is only so much any police department can do.
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.