Firework activity over Fourth of July significantly decreased compared to last year, and city leaders are taking this as a sign that recent enforcement campaigns are working.
Earlier this month, members of San Jose’s Public Safety, Finance and Strategic Support Committee heard highlights from a report on illegal firework activity leading up to Fourth of July weekend.
Between June 15 and July 5, the San Jose Fire Department received 56 calls for service, with 14 being outside fires related to fireworks while the rest were smoke scares or fires of undetermined origin. No reported structure fires resulted from fireworks.
During the same period, the San Jose Police Department received 1,769 complaints about fireworks through its online reporting tool. In total, 10 reports resulted in a citation, while 479 reports resulted in a warning. The remaining 1,280 complaints did not have enough information to warrant action, but will be used as data for tracking hot spots for firework activity.
After illegal fireworks complaints tripled last year, officials in San Jose doubled fines for first-time violators. In the run-up to Fourth of July weekend this year, officials in San Jose and Santa Clara County spent weeks making pleas and threats to persuade residents to not set off illegal fireworks.
SJPD Capt. Jason Ta said there was a dramatic decrease in calls for service compared to last year. In 2020, the department got more than 2,000 calls for service related to fireworks. This year, there were slightly more than 1,000.
Ta and Arthur Belton, acting deputy fire chief, credit the lower amount of firework activity to several enforcement efforts, including increased fines for illegal fireworks, community outreach efforts, improvements to the online reporting system and the expanded social host ordinance—a law passed in May that allows the city to fine tenants and property owners for fireworks launched on their property, regardless of if they set them off or not.
Looking to the future, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones asked Ta at the meeting about the possibility of fully eliminating illegal fireworks in San Jose.
“Is this war winnable?” Jones said, adding that there are only so many police and the sheer volume of fireworks is high. “Is this winnable… or are we just trying to mitigate the damage?”
Ta responded that this year’s operation was successful, noting that the SJPD made 13 arrests and seized over 550 pounds of illegal fireworks.
“I do think the social host ordinance is moving us in the right direction,” Ta said. He added that improvements to the warning system could potentially further reduce the use of fireworks.
Not everyone is pleased with the city’s efforts to curb firework use in San Jose. Laurel Pathman, a resident of Alviso, said her neighborhood is rocked by fireworks every year. She said there were enormous crowds in Alviso and numerous fireworks went off during the holiday weekend, but she witnessed little police involvement.
“I’ve lived here since 2002 and it’s gotten worse every year,” Pathman told San José Spotlight.