A series of operations to tamp down on illegal fireworks in East Palo Alto led police officers to confiscate 1,304 pounds of the devices and arrest nine people over the course of June and July, according to a report released this week.
The city, as elsewhere throughout the Bay Area and the country, has struggled with an unprecedented fireworks problem since early May as people sought to relieve their boredom and community fireworks shows were canceled due to stay-at-home orders as the number of COVID-19 cases grow. From May 1 through July 5, the department received 944 calls regarding fireworks compared to 243 calls during the same time in 2019 — a 288% increase — according to police data. ShotSpotter activations, which measure gunfire, recorded eight incidents this year compared to three last year.
The fireworks seizures prevented 25,164 discharges. Police also seized 7 pounds of marijuana and two firearms, according to the Police Department report.
The city’s Fireworks Task Force Team of two officers and a sergeant had support from the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, state Division of Adult Parole Operations, San Mateo County Probation Department and other law enforcement agencies. They issued six search warrants and two probation searches and made one traffic stop, altogether confiscating 704 pounds of fireworks. The latter alone netted more than 110 pounds. In addition, on July 4, law enforcement confiscated about 600 pounds of illegal fireworks on the streets.
The warrants and probation searches also uncovered an M-80 explosive, a handgun with high-capacity magazines and 5 pounds of marijuana, including marijuana edibles. Four of the nine people arrested were also taken in for allegedly making felony threats or assaulting officers. One of the individuals made a threat after being approached over a single, already discharged “President’s Series” firework emblazoned with a presidential seal showing a figure with hair similar to President Donald Trump.
Under California health and safety codes, possession of a gross weight of fireworks under 25 pounds, including packaging, is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or six months in jail.
The quantities seized in many of these arrests rise to the level of felonies, however, which can carry sentences of up to three years in state prison and up to $50,000 fines.
Here is a breakdown of the seizures and arrests
• 2400 block of Fordham Street: 106.86 pounds of fireworks and one arrest.
• 400 block of Wisteria Drive: 145.35 pounds of fireworks, 5 pounds of marijuana and one arrest.
• 2200 block of Euclid Avenue: 77.36 pounds of fireworks, one explosive device, one firearm, thousands of dollars in cash and three arrests.
• 400 block of Garden Street: 74.1 pounds of fireworks and one arrest.
• 2300 block Palo Verde Avenue: Multiple spent fireworks found in a trash receptacle and no arrests.
• 2200 block University Avenue: One discharged firework and one arrest for threatening officers.
• 2300 block of Dumbarton Avenue: 190 pounds of fireworks, case referred to the District Attorney’s Office.
• 600 block of Runnymede Street: One fireworks device and one arrest.
• 1700 block of Bay Road: fireworks: 110.93 pounds — 1 arrest
The July 4 fireworks suppression resulted in the confiscation of 600 pounds of fireworks, a firearm, 2 pounds of marijuana and no arrests.
East Palo Alto police Chief Al Pardini indicated during a June 29 tri-city community forum of police and fire chiefs and elected leaders from East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Palo Alto that he would release data on the investigations after July 4. The chiefs and city officials said that the Fourth of July actions would be only part of an ongoing effort in the coming months to try to change the culture around massive fireworks displays by residents and celebratory gunfire, which have caused injuries and property damage.
Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman said this week that fireworks caused a detached garage fire in eastern Menlo Park. In a separate incident, a 20-year-old man was injured by glass after fireworks were set off in a bottle.