Police take lead on fireworks enforcement

Chief says new app helped to improve public reporting


Citizens concerned about lacking enforcement of illegal fireworks use in Hollister could rest just a bit easier this year.

The Hollister Police Department for the first time in 2017 took the lead on a crackdown of the activity. Leading up to July 4 in Hollister, the mayor and police chief were active on social media and elsewhere warning residents about increased enforcement.

For police, it helped that the Hollister Independence Rally fell on the weekend before the Tuesday holiday, giving police a slight break in between to allow more resources on fireworks patrol.

Still, Police Chief David Westrick reported knowing of at least a couple of small fires and a dog killed, possibly due to the fireworks. On Monte Carlo Drive, for instance, illegal fireworks landed in the sunroof of a car and caused a fire to it. He mentioned a separate grass fire off Santa Ana Road on Tuesday as well, but it was unclear what caused it as of press time.

Westrick credited an improved web application for better communication with the reporting public. He said an email-based app used last year was a mistake and too slow. He said there were almost 400 users and more than 500 reports using the new app this year.

“I was out there myself,” Westrick said. “I can tell you that people were celebrating America.”

This year, the Hollister Police Department used a smartphone application known as FOREalert to report illegal fireworks. FOREalert allows two-way communication between citizens and city authorities. The app didn’t require any login or identification information, so people can anonymously report incidents.

“If you see a launch or explosion that you estimate within 100 [yards] of your location you can report it, using FOREalerts reporting mode,” the police press release stated. “FOREalert uses your device’s GPS chip to access your general location and elevation. A message with a general location (about 100 yards radius) of the incident goes to the fireworks team.”

The Hollister Police Department also sent out a press release on June 29 that detailed plans for handling illegal fireworks on the Fourth of July.

“Because Independence Day falls on a weekday and after the Hollister motorcycle rally, Hollister Police Department will be able to dedicate officers for the first time for illegal fireworks patrol,” the press release stated. “The police department will be joining forces with fire department and code enforcement. Those persons who are found using or possessing illegal fireworks will be cited.”

A first offense could net a fine of $1,000, the press release stated.

On the fire department side, Deputy Fire Marshal Charlie Bedolla worked during the holiday. He said fireworks were going off nonstop.

“It was nonstop from about 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. with illegal fireworks in the area,” Bedolla said Wednesday morning. “They were still going off after 11.”

Compared to last year, calls concerning fireworks were consistent, Bedolla said.

“It continues to get worse every year,” he said. “There’s just way too many [illegal fireworks] compared to the amount of patrol out there.”

Reporter Nicholas Preciado contributed to this article.

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