Westminster PD’s efforts to curb illegal fireworks on Fourth of July pays off


Westminster resident Gina Lieber noticed the increase in enforcement by the police department during the Fourth of July holiday.

“There were a lot of police [on]patrol [that]stopped and introduced themselves multiple times throughout the day – even stopped for a group photo,” said Lieber, who has lived in the city for eight years.

Indeed, the overall strategy for the days surrounding the Fourth of July in the city wasn’t just one of enforcement by the WPD, but also was about community outreach, according to Commander Darin Upstill.

“We went out to all the block parties and met with the people and talked to them,” said Upstill about the agency’s outreach on the holiday. “We played football with some kids, shot baskets…They appreciated that.”

Westminster allows legal “safe and sane” fireworks in the city from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on the Fourth of July. As in many other cities, residents have complained of illegal fireworks going off in the days surrounding the holiday. The WPD began implementing efforts to mitigate such illegal activity about a month before the Fourth of July.

In the early part of June, Westminster Chief Ralph Ornelas and an Orange County Fire Authority representative put out a public service announcement that was posted on social media channels.

“It was basically: be safe, [no]illegal fireworks, zero tolerance,” said Upstill.

The agency also attended two Neighborhood Watch meetings to communicate and receive feedback from residents about the holiday.

“Just kind of letting [them]know that we’re going to be out there more than we have in the past,” he said.

More than 3,000 fliers and door hangers were distributed by WPD explorers to areas known for the most essaywanted calls for fireworks complaints over the past three years. They were in English, Vietnamese and Spanish.

The detectives bureau also got involved with an innovative approach at stopping illegal fireworks sales. It was an undercover operation involving the use of Craigslist.

“We were trying to buy illegal fireworks from people who lived generally in the City of Westminster … and/or pretending like we were selling illegal fireworks,” said Upstill.

The operation lasted for a week and resulted in nine arrests and more than 300 pounds of fireworks recovered.

In addition to the undercover work, the agency also utilized the city’s electronic traffic sign to post reminders about not using illegal fireworks. It was moved to different areas in the city for two weeks prior to the holiday.

On the day of the Fourth of July, the agency was out in full force, including patrol and command staff.

“I thought we were going to not be well-received at block parties,” said Upstill, “but they were super happy to see us.”

Fireworks calls can be a challenge for police officers because they can’t hand out citations unless they catch people in the act of using illegal fireworks – which is hard to do when both legal and illegal fireworks are going off all day.

“I think we did a good job, but again like every city, it was just overwhelmed with fireworks calls,” said Upstill.