New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday a multi-agency task force to crack down on illegal fireworks sales, after fireworks have rocked the city late nights this month, but indicated that the crackdown would not extend to policing street use unless there was a threat to human life.
“Illegal fireworks are both dangerous and a public nuisance,” de Blasio said. “We’re cracking down on this activity at the source to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers and the ability of our neighbors to get some sleep.”
The task force will consist of 42 officers from the NYPD, FDNY, and Sheriff’s office, who will target suppliers, distributors and possessors of large quantities of illegal fireworks by conducting investigations and sting operations, both within and without New York City. Additionally, FDNY will launch a public safety campaign to emphasize the dangers of illegal fireworks.
But at his press conference Tuesday morning, the mayor indicated he would not make it a priority to have police focus on stopping street use.
Asked by New York Post reporter Julia Marsh whether police are going to “do anything to go out and potentially maybe confiscate fireworks from those who are setting them off,” de Blasio replied, “The most important thing is for the NYPD to work on the most important issues, and right now, given the other challenges we’re facing, I want them focused on the most fundamental issues of public safety,” primarily the recent surge in shootings.
“The fireworks can be unsafe – I’m not for a moment missing that,” said the mayor. “But the challenge, a lot of times with fireworks, is that particularly young people fire them off and then leave immediately so it’s very hard to find them and address it in real time, in a way that actually would make a difference, but anytime the NYPD has the ability to intervene where there might be a threat to human life, of course they will … I think the more profound issue is going to be going to the root cause, just cutting off the supply,” adding that he believes “the education effort’s going to make a difference.”
De Blasio was then asked by this Hamodia reporter: “Based on your comments of cracking down on the supplies of fireworks, and your response to Julia that you really don’t want the NYPD doing anything to reduce fireworks use, it seems still that if the police come across someone using it, they’re not supposed to do anything. There have been videos of cop cars driving by as kids were shooting fireworks at each other; they haven’t done anything. There’s a sense that you’re unwilling to use the police to vigorously enforce the law, and that the quality of life of law-abiding New Yorkers is less important than the ideal of using police as little as possible. So I’d just like to ask, plain and simple, if New Yorkers see illegal fireworks, should they call 911, and if police see people shooting them off, should they arrest them? Are police being instructed to stop this or to let it go?”
The mayor replied, “Respectfully, you can editorialize all day long in your question. I don’t think the best way to get at the truth is to simply present a worldview and act like that’s the way things are being interpreted. What you said is not consistent with what I said, with all due respect. What I said was, we have a situation where if anything is a matter of life and death, of course NYPD is going to intervene. But if you listen to what I said just a short while ago, we have a situation where a lot of the times, kids set off fireworks and leave immediately; it’s very hard to do effective enforcement. And we have a lot of other serious things the NYPD needs to focus on right now. If anyone who hears fireworks and they want to complain about it, they should call 311. Absolutely. if they think something is immediate matter of life and death, as always call 911. I don’t accept this frame of like, oh, you have a video of one thing that happened and that means everything is the same way. No, I just don’t buy that. If any NYPD officer thinks that something needs to be intervened in, that’s part of their professional discretion to make that decision. But the focus right now is on dealing with serious and violent crime – that’s where we need NYPD resources focused.”
The reporter pressed him, “Again, you said, “Life and death,” but I’m asking, is quality of life not enough for a police officer to intervene? Is it only if it’s life and death?”
The mayor replied, “No, again, what I said is – Reuvain you can you can miss my point if you want, but I’m trying to make it really clear – where there’s an opportunity to act effectively and where there’s a sense that there’s a danger of course they’re going to intervene, but in a lot of cases you can’t intervene if someone shoots off a firework and then they’re gone. It just is not a good use of police time and energy. The way to go at this is at the root. Cut off the supply and engage parents and families, telling them they have to step up here too, to help us get kids to stop doing this because it’s not good for anyone and it’s not safe.”
Illegal fireworks use in the city has soared this month.
There have been 4,559 calls to 311 complaining of fireworks in Brooklyn alone between June 1 and June 21 of this year, according to NYPD data provided to Hamodia. There were 11,535 such 311 calls throughout the city in 2020 through June 21, compared to just 54 during the same period of 2019. Between June 1 and June 21 of this year, there were 12,578 calls to 911 complaining of illegal fireworks throughout the city, compared to just 1,007 for the entire period of January 1 to June 21 of last year.
“For any number of reasons the use of illegal firework has skyrocketed this year and that has damaged the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said in a statement Tuesday morning accompanying announcement of the new multi-agency task force. “The NYPD will continue to work closely with our city partners to address this dangerous issue.”
Late Monday night, 250 New Yorkers, mostly from Brooklyn, drove to Gracie Mansion, the official mayoral residence, for a midnight ruckus, to protest what they described as the mayor’s inaction on fireworks enforcement. Blasting car horns, shooting fireworks, and using whatever noisemakers they could get their hands on, the crowd chanted, “If we don’t sleep, you don’t sleep.”
Around the time word of the impending protest spread on social media, de Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein tweeted that the city would announce on Tuesday the crackdown on illegal fireworks suppliers. Asked Tuesday by Daily News reporter Shant Shahrigian whether the midnight protest “influenced your decision at all,” de Blasio replied, “Not in the least – obviously, Shant, this is something that was being worked on before that,” but did not otherwise address the protest.
Updated Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at 9:43 pm .