San Mateo amends code to enable cops to seize fireworks

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Ahead of Independence Day celebrations this summer, San Mateo police have been granted the explicit authority to confiscate fireworks, and also to issue infraction citations for cases that may not rise to the level of misdemeanor or felony offenses.

California Fire Code adopted by the city deems it illegal to use, sell, store and possess all fireworks in San Mateo. But the fire code grants authority only to the fire chief or their designee to seize fireworks. That language has made it difficult for police to enforce fireworks possession and use cases that are less serious than misdemeanor or felony offenses, police said. When officers respond to calls for service about fireworks, they “must actually witness the firework being set off in order to cite an individual for use or possession of fireworks.”

At both the April 5 and April 19 meetings, City Council approved an ordinance adding a section to the city’s Municipal Code to clearly indicate that the Police Department is authorized to seize fireworks, as well as to issue infraction citations to offenders. A $100 fine will be imposed for a first offense within one year, a $200 fine will be imposed for a second offense within a year, and the fine will rise to $500 for every offense thereafter within a year. The ordinance takes effect 30 days after its enactment.

Depending on magnitude or frequency of the fireworks use, offenders could still be charged with a misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $1,000 and potential imprisonment. Large quantities of dangerous fireworks can also be charged as a felony, police said.

San Mateo has not been immune to a nationwide spike in their use, particularly last summer when annual Independence Day events were cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the two weeks leading up to and including July 4, there were 294 fireworks-related incidents logged into SMPD’s computer-aided dispatch system. This is compared with 109 incidents logged in 2019 and 175 in 2018, police said.