Santa Maria police show the illegal fireworks confiscated Tuesday night during a new crackdown. (Santa Maria Police Department photo)
Santa Maria police show the illegal fireworks confiscated Tuesday night during a new crackdown. (Santa Maria Police Department photo)

A task force formed to stem the use of illegal fireworks in Santa Maria issued its first citation Tuesday night and scofflaws can expect enforcement to ramp up as Fourth of July nears.

A man, whose name wasn’t released, was issued an administrative citation along with a criminal statute violation after task force members on patrol spotted him igniting illegal fireworks,police Sgt. Russ Mengel said.

“We knew it was going to happen at some point, we were just going to come across an individual doing it,” Mengel said, adding that pinpointing those setting off illegal fireworks is like looking for the “perpetual needle in a haystack.”

Task force members have conducted patrols seeking people using illegal fireworks in the city, logging approximately 30 hours trying to locate violators.

Illegal fireworks are those that go airborne and create loud booms.

A picture released on Twitter shows several fireworks also were confiscated from the man in the west-central section of the city — coincidentally, not far from Santa Maria Fire Departmentheadquarters.

The man caught in the act Tuesday night while leaning over small mortar tubes had purchased the fireworks hours earlier for $200 from someone he met on the street, Mengel said, adding that investigators are trying to track down the seller.

Patrols are occurring nightly with police officers and arson investigators looking for people setting off fireworks, with the numbers involved expected to double in the coming days.

“We anticipate the volume will be greater in the coming weeks,” Mengel said.

On Fourth of July, staffing will be tripled, he added.

The task force formed as part of the city’s new education and enforcement program to crack down on the plethora of illegal fireworks set off in the city weeks before and after July 4.

“It’s not being courteous to your neighbors,” Mengel said of the illegal fireworks use. “Most people can appreciate the Fourth of July …  but the relentless fireworks throughout the seasons is just not appropriate.”

Residents have complained the highly illicit fireworks scare dogs, harm veterans with post traumatic stress disorder and startle people with dementia and autism.

In response, the City Council adopted the program calling for education and enforcement while restricting the use of safe and sane fireworks to just July 4. In the past, they could be used as soon as booths started selling them in Santa Maria.

The city established administrative citations which can be issued with signatures of two civilian witnesses, and carry a $1,000 fine.

That fine typically is higher than the courts issue people found guilty of criminal violations, one reason the city implemented the administrative violation, Mengel said.

Safe and sane fireworks — those bearing a special designation — are only sold and allowed in Santa Maria, Lompoc and Guadalupe in the days leading up to July 4. Lompoc also just reminded residents they are not allowed to use illegal fireworks.

All fireworks are banned in the rest of the Santa Barbara County and its other five cities.

Some Santa Maria residents have expressed fear of retaliation if they sign a citation, but Mengel said anyone who has a specific address can report it anonymously on the fireworks hotline.

“That’s our best hope in catching someone in the act,” he said, adding they have found that responding to a vague area doesn’t ended up being fruitful.

“This year we’re trying to have the resources in the right place at the right time,” he said, adding the information left on the hotline is being used by investigators to focus their efforts on specific areas.

To help investigators, people can report use of illegal fireworks on the city fireworks hotline by calling 805.925.0951, extension 3473.

Article courtesy of Noozhawk.