Redwood City mulls sharp increases in fines for fireworks use

in Community and

Even though they’re illegal in Redwood City, frequent fireworks use continues to pose a safety problem during holiday celebrations and at other times of the year, with the Police Department receiving an average of 176 reported incidents annually for the past decade, according to Redwood City Fire Department Chief Stan Maupin.

That is leading to a proposal this coming Tuesday at Redwood City council about possible strategies to combat the unsafe use of fireworks, particularly around Independence Day. Proposals include public outreach campaigns and a steep increase in fines.

Currently, the fine for a first fireworks use violation is $50. This proposal would increase the fine to $500. Right now, a second offense within a year is a $100 fine. The chief’s proposal would increase the second offense fine to $750. While the third offense within 12 months is currently $500, it would go up to $1,000 under this proposal.

The proposal also sets out a communications campaign warning people about the dangers and the heightened fines related to illegal fireworks, via the media, social media mailers, flyers, physical signage etc.

In 2014, Redwood City banned “safe and sane” fireworks, which meant all fireworks in the city are prohibited for sale and use. The reason is public safety.

“There is an increased potential for fires and traumatic injuries through the mishandling of these devices and successful criminal prosecution is extremely difficult,” Maupin’s report stated. “While public safety staff strive to deter illegal firework use, especially around Independence Day, efforts to deal with the issue continue all year.”

The chief believes the low fines don’t deter people from using fireworks. And enforcement is difficult. Technology such as ShotSpotter has has “limited effectiveness,” partly because it relies on residents to identify the perpetrators among them, according to the chief’s report. Also, increasing uniformed patrol during the Fourth of July peak hours has been ineffective in the past and not often possible given staffing needs at sanctioned July 4 events, the chief said.

“RCPD was no more successful at overall suppression with increased staffing than it had been with standard staffing levels,” the chief’s report stated.

The hard part isn’t finding the fireworks being used, but identifying the individuals responsible among groups of people, the chief said.

“Merely identifying a group of people who are near active or recently discharged devices is not enough to support an arrest,” his report stated.