Fair warning to all of you planning to shoot off illegal fireworks this 4th of July: L.O.I.S. will be watching.
Not just one L.O.I.S., but two L.O.I.S.es. (L.O.I.S.i?)
The Bakersfield City Fire Department, clever folks that they are, nicknamed two drones “Low Orbiting Incident Satellites,” or L.O.I.S. for short, as a nod to the work I have done to bring awareness to the massive fireworks problem we have in this city and county.
I am honored and humbled.
And I really hope L.O.I.S. helps kick some illegal fireworks butt this 4th of July.
Because our firefighters and law enforcement teams who run the length and breadth of the city trying to protect people from their own idiocy have been on the losing end of this battle for years.
Without any help forthcoming from the state and federal governments to keep illegal fireworks out of California, it’s up to locals to get creative with the few resources they have.
So, hats off to the Bakersfield Fire Department.
The department actually bought one of the drones last year and deployed it during July 4th but only as a test run. This year will be the first time the drones assist in the action.
Chief Douglas Greener explained that the drones will only be used over public roadways, not to peek in anyone’s backyard.
They will be a set of eyes in the sky helping direct task force members on the ground to where illegal fireworks are set off.
“The plan this year is to more aggressively sending out both drone units and see how beneficial they are and their limitations as far as enforcement,” Greener said. “My specific note to our units is to really be aggressive and push. We need feedback on how the drones work and what their potential is.”
Not for photos, so much, but how they work as spotters.
There isn’t a need for photos and other hard evidence thanks to the Bakersfield City Council, which switched from criminal to administrative citations last year.
The burden of proof for an administrative citation is much lower than a misdemeanor, which requires firefighters to actually see the person lighting an illegal firework.
Greener became increasingly frustrated with the outright chaos that July 4th had devolved into and how overwhelmed firefighters had become.
He told council members how he had ridden through neighborhoods and saw residents openly scoffing at firefighters trying to ticket them.
The council listened.
Switching to administrative fines was a big boost to the men and women trying to enforce the law.
Citations went from an average of about 40 in past years to more than 80 in 2016.
The other benefit to switching to administrative citations is the city gets to keep all the fine money it collects. Under a criminal citation, the courts got that money.
At $1,000 a pop that can add up.
This past January the city reported it had collected more than $30,575, net, in fines from illegal fireworks citations in 2016.
And, wouldn’t you know, I have a perfect idea for how to spend at least some of of that dough — seed money for the professional fireworks show at the Park at Riverwalk.
Though I’m adamant that we still need to ban all personal fireworks, I’m very pro on professional shows.
Free, professional shows give residents a wonderful event to attend and, anecdotally, it appears to disincentivize illegal fireworks.
Why spend a ton of money on a crummier, more dangerous version of fireworks when you can see an amazing show for free?
People like free.
About 12,000 people a year have loved the city’s free shows since they started a few years ago.
But it’s pricey to put on — close to $60,000. That includes the incredible fireworks display, bounce houses, food vendors and more.
In 2015, the city almost had to cancel for lack of a sponsor.
And I noticed a blurb in The Californian earlier this week that AEG, the company that operates the city’s entertainment venues, was shaking the trees for sponsors again this year.
The funding is about halfway there, according to Steve Eckerson, general manager of AEG.
But that means it still needs to find another $30,000.
Why not use the fireworks citation money?
And perhaps the city could commit a portion of the fireworks citation money — $10,000 would be a good start — every year as seed money to make sure the show continues.
“I like that idea,” Greener said. “You can certainly make the connection that it would assist enforcement.”
Well, “great minds” must think alike because Councilman Chris Parlier told me he had made a similar pitch to city staff about an hour before I called him.
“Dedicating that money on a continual basis would probably have to go to Leg and Lit (the Legislation and Litigation Committee of the council),” he said. “But it’s a possibility.”
“It’s definitely worth exploring,” said Councilman Willie Rivera who has clashed with me in the past for my stand that all personal fireworks should be banned.
Oh, well, agreeing all the time would be boring.
By the way, the city also took another one of my suggestions last year when it reduced the number of days fireworks can be set off from four to three — July 2, 3 and 4 only.
Baby steps, perhaps, but they are headed in the right direction.