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DOWNEY – Dismayed at the number of illegal fireworks exploding over Downey last July 4, council members this week will consider increasing penalties and stepping up police patrols next Independence Day.
Police officers issued 43 citations for illegal fireworks last July 4, but it was barely a dent in the number of explosives spotted around Downey.
City officials called it a “war zone.”
“Officers busy issuing citations reported that illegal ‘sky rockets’ were blowing up all around them and they were simply unable to respond,” Police Chief Carl Charles wrote in a report to the City Council. “The large numbers of legal ‘safe and sane’ fireworks also provided a cover and distraction, making it hard to identify those responsible for setting off the illegal fireworks.”
Illegal fireworks were blamed for a house fire on the 9100 block of Hasty Street, which caused $25,000 in damages and displaced a family.
The police department normally has 25 officers on duty July 4, not counting a 10-person “fireworks enforcement team” in unmarked detective cruisers and on bicycles.
Officers, however, are also assigned to staff the fireworks show at Downey High School, taking them away from regular patrol. (The fireworks show is sponsored by Calvary Chapel, which reimburses the city for police overtime costs).
In his report, Charles recommends increasing the minimum fine for a first-time fireworks offense to at least $2,000. The stepped-up penalties could be advertised on local billboards and on flyers, which could be printed using funds from increased permit fees on fireworks stands, the police chief said.
Adding 18 police officers and three sergeants to July 4 overtime duty would cost about $8,000.
But even those measures may not be enough.
“[We] do not expect this to eradicate the overwhelming majority of illegal firework activity that plagues the city every year,” Charles said. “We suspect that only a complete ban on all fireworks would make a significant impact.”
Council members will consider their options at Tuesday’s city council meeting.