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Illegal fireworks spark concern in Lathrop
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LATHROP — The City of Lathrop could end up adding some teeth to their push to eradicate illegal fireworks in the community in the coming months.
Just how much bite they’re going to use – whether they authorize the City Attorney to prosecute the cases like Ripon has done or put the matter into the hands of the residents themselves like Manteca has done – will be determined by a future meeting between Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal, City Manager Steve Salvatore, Lathrop Police Chief James Hood and Lathrop Manteca Fire District Chief Gene Neely.
The move can’t come soon enough for Jim Hilson.
During the public discussion portion of Monday’s council meeting, Hilson recounted that his neighborhood sounded like a warzone during the week before the Fourth of July holiday with people shooting off fireworks that rivaled those that were actually part of the city’s official show.
“You have 11 months to figure out a solution to try and solve this problem,” Hilson told the council. “This is not just one or two firecrackers that we used to blow off when we were kids – now they’re setting off stuff that rivals what’s going on in the big shows, and something needs to be done about it.”
Hilson got some sympathy from those on the council, which agreed that this last year was worse than anything that they had ever seen in their time in Lathrop.
Vice Mayor Steve Dresser said he spent the week working in a city-approved fireworks booth as a volunteer and watched every single night as show quality fireworks rained down from the sky behind Save Mart.
Dhaliwal, who told Hilson that a meeting has already been planned between the city’s decision-makers to formulate a plan of attack that would address the problem, said that while they don’t want to cut in on people’s ability to enjoy themselves, this last year crossed a line.
“When it starts to affect the quality of life of your neighbors, that’s when you have to do something,” Dhaliwal said. “We’ll get together with the police department and the fire department and see what they need from us to give their efforts a little bit more teeth.”
And it’s an issue that the Lathrop Manteca Fire District has already pledged to attack head-on.
After a residence was significantly damaged late on the night on July 4 in a structure fire believed to be started by illegal fireworks, Neely announced that they would be looking at implementing whatever tools they needed to in order to get a handle on the problem – noting that the district is seriously considering the use of a remote-controlled drone to thwart those who believe that the benefit of relative cover is enough for them to escape detection.
Both Manteca and Ripon implemented new local programs this last year to give the city more power in determining the fines and the process involved with determining who gets prosecuted. While Manteca utilized a high-tech approach provided by safe-and-sane firework manufacturer TNT that allows people to pinpoint the location of the culprits using GPS and record images and video of them in the unlawful action – using that and an administrative law judge to assess steep fines – Ripon took the unique step of returning the entire levy and fine process back to the city attorney’s office after years of having the San Joaquin District Attorney decline to file charges against those who has been cited and turned over.
Dhaliwal said that the meeting of representatives from the police, fire and city – which may also include one other council member – will take place when City Manager Steve Salvatore returns from vacation. 

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.