Friday, May 24, 2024

Fireworks debris seen Sunday at the Fletcher Maynard Academy in The Port neighborhood.

Police got 112 calls complaining about illegal fireworks just on the Fourth of July, a spike from the days before and after – but still a figure that largely blends in with a season of unrelenting explosions that even as of June 29 was “almost a 3,000 percent increase in complaints about fireworks since this time last year,” police commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. said.

“Since May 1, we’ve had a pretty drastic increase in complaints for firework activity,” Bard told city councillors. “In 2020 so far we’ve had over 350 calls for service since May 1. In previous years, we’ve averaged about 10.”

It’s a regional and even nationwide phenomenon that has been connected to Black Lives Matter protests – with Bard testifying that at least for a while, fireworks were beginning at 8:46 p.m. nightly to commemorate the length of time a Minneapolis police officer stayed kneeling on George Floyd’s neck on Memorial Day until he was dead. But the holiday blurred that message, if it hadn’t been blurred already.

Extravagant fireworks displays set off by residents could be seen in Cambridge and Somerville on Thursday, well ahead of the Fourth of July. (Photo: Marcie Swartz)

In official police records, the period between May 1 through this Sunday, the end of the Fourth of July holiday, saw 589 calls compared with 70 last year and 47 in 2018, according to Jeremy Warnick, director of communications and media relations for Cambridge police. In the first five days of July alone there were 211 calls, compared with 58 last year and 30 in 2018. From last year to this year, July calls saw an increase of 264 percent.

Expecting a holiday surge, police deployed extra bike and walking patrol officers throughout the day and night on Friday and the July Fourth holiday, with some officers held over for shifts until calls died down again, Warnick said. Though scenes of depleted fireworks such as residents found in the Fletcher Maynard Academy yard suggested just how many had been successfully set off, police still found a lot to confiscate unused.

“The total value of the confiscated fireworks from Friday and Saturday, alone, was in the several thousand dollar range,” he said.

Most are fireworks bought in New Hampshire and other states and driven across the border illegally. But you can’t arrest people for possession or use of fireworks – just fine them $100 per incident – and “the challenge with fines, particularly when responding to calls with groups, is that it can be difficult to identify who specifically is responsible,” Warnick said.

Responding to one call, police found a group of more than 100 people who were not cooperative or cowed, and continued “to light off fireworks despite the presence of officers,” Warnick said. In other cases, individuals or small groups fled when police showed up or were already gone.

“A lot of them are very young people,” Bard said of the people police found setting off fireworks. “There was one 22-year-old woman who was arrested [because she] was found with fireworks and a firearm, and another group of four men, all between the ages of 22 and 24, were arrested for trespassing, fireworks possession and possession of a loaded firearm with a laser sight attached,” Bard said in late June. On June 10, officers responded to a fireworks complaint and found an abandoned backpack holding 11 roman candles, six mortar-style fireworks, a scale, marijuana and at least nine bundles of cash in $20 and $100 bills.

Police reported a haul of fireworks, cash and marijuana from an abandoned backpack found June 10. (Photo: Cambridge Police Department)

But over the Fourth of July weekend, police filed fireworks-related charges only once – in a 3:22 a.m. Sunday incident on Acorn Park Drive, where police found eight people fighting after two Boston men shot fireworks toward another Boston man and his friends, according to a police report. “This upset one of the groups and resulted in a man chasing after the other group’s vehicle. This caused the vehicle to swerve and crash,” the report said. The fight went on with a thrown brick that smashed a window on the car and a knife hurled at the people inside.

Some of the men are being charged with assault with a dangerous weapon for shooting fireworks. While Bard highlighted that there “could be fire hazards that go along with the fireworks,” district attorney Marian Ryan noted that more than 9,000 people had been treated for fireworks-related injuries last year.

But many resident complaints have been about loss of sleep from the incessant noise.

“A few residents of The Port have unilaterally decided that the only hours we are all allowed to sleep are between 4 a.m. and noon,” one Twitter user said after the June 10 bust. “Otherwise it’s fireworks time.”