Illegal fireworks

Illegal fireworks detonate near Wayne Schneider stadium on the Fourth of July before the start of the city fireworks show.

Tracy Police Department had one of its busiest weekends to date according to Chief Sekou Millington, who presented a preliminary report on July 4 police enforcement to Tracy City Council on Tuesday.

Millington reported that TPD developed a robust operations plan two months in advance of the holiday in anticipation of a high volume of incidents for July 4, the first big celebration Tracy has had since shelter-in-place orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic were officially lifted by the state.

“Our officers did an exceptional job this weekend. It was an extremely busy weekend, the busiest weekend I have experienced since being here,” said Millington, who has been heading the police department since January 2020. “This year we added an element of technology to our response, and that is to track the calls that were coming in on a daily basis regarding fireworks, trying to pinpoint locations that were high frequency and regularly occurring … Now that helped us out until the Fourth of July. We had a detail prepared for the park events to make sure that went off safely without a hitch. And then we also had a detail prepared for firework response.”

Though plans were set in place for an influx of calls to respond to, uncontrollable factors like short staffing and critical incidents that required multiple officers on a scene forced the department to stretch its resources to cover all grounds.

“We had to deploy our BearCat, which is our armored vehicle, on three different occasions. Those deployments were just shy of a SWAT call out for my police department. So, in order to deal with these situations that call for life saving measures, it took a draw on resources very early in the Fourth of July operations plan,” said Millington.

Chief of Staff Sgt. Scott Muir said the police department received over 500 calls during the 24-hour span of July 4 and noted at least four critical incidents. From 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. alone, the department received 77 911-calls and 149 calls to the non-emergency line.

“Because it was so busy the other night, we actually went on – we have a code status that we go on to for ‘priority one calls only,’” Muir said on Wednesday “That's like in-progress or violent crimes. And we actually went on that for a few hours.”

Priority calls for what the department calls its “Code Red” also include any emergency incidents with individuals severely injured or needing life-saving services. According to Muir, this is a code that is rarely implemented.

Millington said that staffing for dispatchers was doubled compared to a regular night and calls were typically answered within 10-to-20 seconds with few being answered beyond 40 seconds. At least 22 calls that came through the non-emergency number were not answered due to the caller abandoning the call before a dispatcher could answer the line.

Critical incidents included a domestic dispute with shots-fired in the backyard of a home, a DUI collision, a gunshot victim that was taken to a local hospital and a two-car fire that was the result of illegal fireworks.

“One of the fireworks went into one of the cars and the car actually had a bunch of illegal fireworks in it. And those started going off and it caught onto another vehicle,” said Muir.

An on-the-scene report by ABC 10 said South San Joaquin County Fire Authority Division Chief David Brammel confirmed that fire crews had responded to the incident around 1:25 a.m. Monday morning on the 500 block of Cecelio Way after receiving a call about a structure fire involving a vehicle. ABC 10 also reported that parts exploded from the vehicles when crews arrived and ignited nearby vegetation. No injuries or other damage was reported at the time.

“So needless to say, it was very busy, and I want to commend my officers for the work that they did, and the bravery that they showed during the incidents where, again, they were running towards gunfire where everyone would generally run from gunfire,” said Millington.

Millington also warned that some residents should be expecting a citation in the mail for violating the city’s fireworks ordinances. Currently, safe-and-sane type fireworks are the only type permitted to be discharged in residential neighborhoods.

This year, the department used flying drones to help gather evidence of illegal fireworks being deployed from households. Drones deployed by the police department require specific licenses and operators must adhere to strict do’s and don’ts when using the devices for investigations, according to Muir.

“We utilize the drones so we have the ability to capture a lot of good evidence, and to utilize our new social host ordinance for follow up, so there will be quite a few residents who will be receiving citations in the mail for violating our fireworks ordinance. And that's forthcoming, so that's an ongoing investigation,” said Millington.

According to the City of Tracy’s municipal code, it is unlawful and shall be a misdemeanor to possess, sell or discharge illegal fireworks within town. Alternatively, the city can issue an administrative citation to responsible parties from an illegal fireworks incident. Those charged with a misdemeanor can face fines worth up to $1,000 and can potentially also face imprisonment up to six months.

• Contact Brianna Guillory at bguillory@tracypress.com or 209-830-4229.

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