Police said calls for service related to fireworks surrounding the July 4 holiday this year dropped significantly in Citrus Heights compared to 2016 — although many residents, including the mayor, said sounds and sights of illegal fireworks seemed more numerous this year.
“It did seem like there were more this year,” said Mayor Jeff Slowey, following a presentation by Patrol Operations Commander Daman Christensen during the city council’s July 13 meeting. “But at the end of the day, there was some pretty cool fireworks out there,” he said with a smile.
The Citrus Heights Police Department annually tracks calls related to fireworks from noon on June 28 through July 5 at 10 p.m., the time period authorized by the city municipal code for the sale and igniting of “safe and sane” fireworks. In 2014, the department reported receiving 139 calls for service regarding fireworks, 126 calls in 2015, and then more than double that number last year — with 306 calls for service reported in 2016.
This year, there were 188 calls for service related specifically to fireworks that resulted in the confiscation of 70 pounds of illegal fireworks, according to Commander Christensen. Of the 188 calls, police said about a third could not be located, another third resulted in officers checking the location but finding no issues, and in 58 cases officers found evidence of illegal fireworks.
Showing a photo to the council of a trunk full of seized fireworks, Christensen said the confiscations were conducted without issue, with illegal fireworks given up voluntarily.
Police Chief Ron Lawrence said in addition to calls, “we certainly have seen the aftermath complaints on social media about loud explosions.” However, the chief said enforcement of the city’s fireworks ordinance, which bans aerial and explosive varieties of fireworks, is difficult for officers.
“The enforcement of this becomes a real challenge because when we get complaints of fireworks in progress, more often than not, by the time we arrive, they’ve already been expended,” he told the council. “And then if those are still in progress, there’s typically 20 or 30 people standing around watching so we have to prove who actually did the ignition.”
“Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we’re not,” said the chief. He later told The Sentinel no citations were issued, but said the department is “very successful at confiscating” illegal fireworks when people are found in possession.
Seizure is authorized by the city’s municipal code, which allows for authorities to seize “all fireworks offered or exposed for sale, stored or held in violation of this article when such violation creates and imminent threat to public health or safety.”
Christensen said as a preemptive move, CHPD had assessed problem areas in the city in 2016 and identified 23 problem addresses or intersections. Officers went to the locations on the weekend preceding July 4 and attempted to contact residents to inform them of the city’s fireworks ordinance.
Christensen said the days surrounding July 4 are traditionally “a busy couple days for us,” due to the additional call load. The department on average receives about 240 calls for service per day, amounting to a total of 88,500 last year.
To handle the extra load, the commander said five additional officers were on duty on July 3 and six additional officers on July 4. Grant money also allowed for an arson investigator from Metro Fire to be partnered with officers this year on July 3-4.
Council member comments
“So where do all these confiscated fireworks go?” Mayor Slowey questioned during the presentation. “Just didn’t know if there was a party that we all didn’t get invited to,” he said with a chuckle, adding that he was sure the fireworks were disposed of properly.
Commander Christensen said confiscated fireworks are taken by the arson investigator, but did not elaborate further. According to a State Fire Marshal spokesman who was interviewed by CBS 13 last week, confiscated fireworks in California are packaged and shipped out of state where they are “destroyed safely.”
Other council member comments during the meeting were not as lighthearted as the mayor’s remarks. Vice Mayor Steve Miller said illegal fireworks keep him from going out with the family each year because of his dog’s reaction to the noise. “It just sounded like a war zone at times,” he said.
Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins said she was “kind of aghast” when she originally moved to Citrus Heights from Los Angeles County, where all fireworks were banned. “Safe and sane is one thing, but people get hurt from those too,” she said, calling into question whether fireworks displays outside of professional shows should be allowed in the future.
“I think it’s a problem,” said Bruins. “Even though our call numbers are down this year, I think the impact on the public is growing every year.”