'Worst Ever' Year for Illegal Fireworks and Gunfire Shocks Oakland, Bay Area

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

This article is more than 5 years old.
Unsanctioned fireworks are seen over Oakland on July 4, 2017. (Theodore Roddy/YouTube)

Most of San Francisco’s official Fourth of July fireworks display was lost in the fog, but an unsanctioned show exploding below the clouds lit up much of the central city for hours.

Same was true for Oakland, San Jose and other cities across the Bay Area, despite efforts of law enforcement and fire officials to crack down on illegal fireworks.

"Trying to stop fireworks is like trying to stop it from raining," Alameda County sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly said. "We try to step up enforcement. We try to do public safety campaigns. But it’s really like trying to stem the flow of sand at the beach. There’s just no way we can catch up to it."

Kelly said sheriff's deputies fielded 150 calls about illegal fireworks Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. Deputies cited eight people for misdemeanors. Kelly said the citations typically carry a fine of a few hundred dollars.

He said East Bay law enforcement seized approximately 6,000 pounds of illegal fireworks in the past week, but collected only about 50 pounds Tuesday night.


"That's very low," he said, adding that he hoped the prior seizures made a dent in the cacophony seen and heard throughout the Bay Area.

The San Francisco Police Department did not respond to inquiries about fireworks calls and citations. But the city's Department of Emergency Management, which handles 911 dispatch and other calls for service, noted a steep increase in non-emergency calls over the Fourth of July, which spokesman Francis Zamora attributed to a public information campaign directing calls about illegal fireworks to the non-emergency line.

He said the jump from 522 non-emergency calls the evening of July 4, 2016 to 1,114 this year were mostly attributable to fireworks, though the department has no way to quickly separate that data.

"It's a pretty safe bet," Zamora said.

An Oakland police dispatcher reported hundreds of unanswered fireworks-related calls and residents' frustration at slow or nonexistent police response just after 11 p.m. Tuesday night.

"There's 205 calls standing -- more than two-thirds are firework related," the dispatcher said, "and supervisors are getting complaints about units driving through the areas and not addressing the fireworks that are being present."

Fireworks are seen exploding over Oakland on the Fourth of July, 2017. Video by Tara Siler of KQED News.

An OPD spokesman said the department had 100 extra officers on duty to field reports of fireworks and celebratory gunfire, and Oakland police responded to "over 125 calls." More detailed numbers were not immediately available.

Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo said he and his neighbors called police, but officers never showed up.

"Having been in the city for all my life, I can honestly say this is the worst ever that I have witnessed," Gallo said. "People pulling out their weapons and shooting them up in the air -- it was completely out of control. I did not witness any police response or fire response."

A resident of Gallo's district came to his office Wednesday morning to complain about chaos in the streets of his neighborhood and a non-response from police.

Everardo Rodriguez said he called police about 9:50 p.m. to report lots of fireworks and some gunfire in the streets outside his home in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood. The dispatcher told him police were on the way, but they never arrived.

"Nobody showed up and then after 11 o’clock, that’s when they really went at it," he said. "I mean they went down on it."

Rodriguez said he heard more than 100 gunshots and saw people firing automatic rifles into the air.

"It just got crazy, and at that point I was like, 'Oh, my God,' " he said. "The cops never came. They completely dropped the ball and it’s luck that nobody got hurt."