Neighborhood fireworks

A block party on the Fourth of July in the Heartwell Park neighborhood included a significant fireworks display last year.

Explosions have set off car alarms, sent dogs scurrying for cover and disrupted sleep in neighborhoods all over Long Beach for nearly a month.

It happens every year about this time — illegal fireworks set off with impunity. Some, including City Council members, say the bombardment started earlier this year and appears to include even more powerful firecrackers. That's in the face of an ongoing campaign to reinforce the city's ban via signs, education and — in recent years — more emphasis on enforcement.

"We're just now able to turn our attention to it (illegal fireworks)," said Arantxa Chaverra, Long Beach Police Department public information officer. She was alluding to the civil unrest and protests after the May 31 death of George Floyd. "We're doing what we've done in previous years. We have detectives out there already, undercover officers looking for illegal fireworks sales."

Fireworks in north Long Beach have been so disruptive Eighth District City Councilman Al Austin conducted a virtual town hall Monday evening to discuss the issue. City Prosecutor Doug Haubert and North Division Police Commander Anthony Lopez participated.

"We are beyond annoyed by the noisy illegal fireworks that have disrupted the peace in our neighborhoods over the past few weeks," Austin said. "The irresponsible actions of a very few scofflaws are impacting the quality of life for many. I, like most residents, refuse to accept mortar explosions as a norm for our community. We are looking at more innovative approaches to deter and catch the culprits, but it will require the help of neighbors reportIng what they actually see to LBPD."

One of the biggest issues blocking enforcement against those lighting fireworks is that possession and use are misdemeanors, Chaverra said. That means officers must see the person lighting or carrying the fireworks.

"They get the calls after the fact," said Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who also is a deputy county prosecutor. "Unless someone is willing to sign a private person's arrest, there's not much they can do.

"I think it's more difficult to enforce this year," Price added. "Maybe it's the civil unrest, or the stay at home orders, but society in general is pretty amped up right now."

Long Beach has attempted different fireworks campaigns, most centered around education and awareness. In January 2018, a group called the Third District Fireworks Advisory Committee formed to try to do more, and created an education campaign with the help of the Cal State Long Beach animation department. Committee chair Ken Weiss said their message was getting out, but it would take time before seeing any progress.

"It's all about changing the culture, and we all know culture change does not come quickly," Weiss said. "We hit on the concept of going to the elementary school kids. They learn, then they go home and tell mom and dad."

Weiss said his group is looking for more members. Email him at ken.weiss@aim.com.

Fourth District Councilman Daryl Supernaw said he continues to expand ways to raise awareness, and is working with Weiss's group this year. Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson said he's ready to explore more approaches.

"I would like to see data representing where the hot spots in the city exist, and more transparency in the way the city prioritizes responses," Richardson said. "That’s the best way to understand how best to utilize our limited resources. I would also like to invest in more investigation of how these illegal fireworks come into our neighborhoods."

Neighborhood involvement is key, according to Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo. She said her neighborhoods have banded together and through crowd-sourcing online, have been able to provide fairly specific locations of fireworks going off to the police.

And, despite the fact officers don't always immediately respond, people still should call the police — using the 562-435-6711 reporting line.

"We encourage everyone to call when there's an issue," Chaverra said. "It does make a difference."

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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