Two additional Manteca Police in plainclothes will hit the streets starting Friday, July 1, armed with smart phones allowing them to move around Manteca essentially undetected to collect evidence needed to penalize homeowners and renters who allow their yards to be used to launch illegal fireworks.
The “Nail ‘Em” app coupled with the host ordinance employing an administrative enforcement procedure adopted by the City Council a year ago this month led to 30 people each being slapped with $750 fines for illegal fireworks on the days leading up to the Fourth of July as well as on the holiday itself during 2016.
The ability for Manteca Police to have the overtime funds to put two officers on the streets from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday, July 1, through Tuesday, July 4, fulfills a council promise made to citizens last year that the city would continue to step up the pressure on the use of illegal fireworks.
Also roaming the streets to document illegal fireworks use will be city firefighters as well as regular scheduled police officers when they are not handling other calls.
After dealing with several years of the escalating use of illegal fireworks — defined as fireworks that are either made to or modified to take flight or move along the ground — and being unable to stem their widespread use, the city opted to take aim at the pocketbooks of offenders. They are doing so by using technology, adopting an ordinance that puts the responsibility on who is living on the property were illegal fireworks are discharged — renters or owner occupied — and employs an administrative law remedy instead of the criminal courts.
In doing so, police no longer have to witness someone launching the illegal fireworks. Instead they can rely on either a visual confirmation of where the fireworks came form or use the global position systems the downloadable app provides to pinpoint the exact point of origin. And by not using the criminal justice system in favor of the administrative law system, successful prosecution skyrockets. It also allows the city to collect the cost of enforcing and prosecuting each case in addition to a $750 fine for each offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense. That means if someone is caught launching illegal fireworks at three different times during one night or three different times during the four days, they would have fines of $2,750 plus have to pay the costs the city incurred.
Two years ago the city was only able to successful prosecute two people. Last year it jumped to 30.
Manteca authorities are encouraging residents to download the app “Nail’Em” available from various app stores to help make those responsible for discharging illegal fireworks in the city pay the price.
The app is simple to use. It has a video component — or you can shoot your video independently using your smartphone video and download it later — as well as a question asking you to authorize the Global Position System to take a reading, an audio portion to make a verbal report, a written section as well and then a form for your contact information to fill out before sending it directly to email@example.com.
The app serves two purposes. One, if the person recording the illegal fireworks is willing to testify it will result in the $750 fine being levied. If not, it gives authorities an indication where they should patrol for illegal fireworks.
Police Chief Jodie Estarziau pointed out the most effective way to apply pressure to reduce illegal fireworks is for citizens to be willing to testify.
She is encouraging officers on regular patrol to use the app when they can as it ties them up for only several minutes at most and doesn’t require them to make contact as the citations are issued after the information on the GPS based app is downloaded, reviewed by the fire marshal and connected with the renter or owner occupant of the property where the illegal fireworks originated.
Last year 145 reports of illegal fireworks were generated by citizens using the “Nail Em” app. Three app reports filed by police officers as well as 35 by residents that had complete video and other data as well as crucial contact information for the reporting party. The rest didn’t have contact information making them useless flor prosecution although they were used as information as a tip of where to look for illegal fireworks. It is dicey to catch them, though, as an officer would have to be there another night at the right time to catch them assuming they do discharge more illegal fireworks.
The bottom line is last year of the 35 incidents that were properly documented, 30 ended with successful prosecution. That’s 15 times between than in 2015.
The goal is to make the financial hit hard enough to force people to drastically cut down on illegal fireworks.
Legal fireworks violate
sound ordinance from
10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Chief Estarziau noted that the city ordinance regarding when Safe and Sane fireworks — those that are legal — can be used has to comply with state law if they are allowed in a city. That means legal fireworks can be used technically 24 hours over the seven days fireworks sales take place in Manteca from noon on Wednesday, June 28, to midnight on July 4. Lighting Safe and Sane Fireworks at 3 p.m. on July 1, as an example, would be legal.
But what wouldn’t be legal is discharging them between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. because the city also has a noise ordinance that limits decibel levels at that time.
The police chief noted those using the “Nail ‘Em” app that also has a time stamp as well as sound recording, and are willing to testify they recorded the fireworks and the noise they generated between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. could result in prosecution for violation of the city’s noise ordinance.
In a typical year officers seize more than 300 pounds of illegal fireworks. In 2015, they seized 2,000 pounds with most coming from a home in Powers Tract near Manteca High where the suspect had stored them in his teen son’s bedroom.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org