SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - With the Fourth of July approaching, Bay Area law enforcement agencies are using new enforcement tools to try to help curb illegal fireworks. Many agencies in the South Bay are hoping the public will turn to their smartphones.
Billboards are now up throughout the City of San Jose in English, Spanish and Vietnamese highlighting how you can report violators online. San Jose isn't the only city fed up with fireworks. The City of Gilroy is too.
“I think it's a problem in the sense that we've had some fire problems in Gilroy,” said Jeff Guenther of Gilroy.
New this year, police in Gilroy are turning to FOREAlert. It's a free mobile app from a developer based in Sunnyvale where citizens can report suspicious activity real-time. Officers can then respond right away.
“In order to send a message to people who choose to use illegal fireworks, we knew we needed to change the way we were handling the extra patrol use,” said Sgt. Jason Smith of Gilroy Police.
The process is simple. Once you download the app, you can report the crime by providing details, video and photos. It will be up and running 6 p.m. until Midnight on July 4.
“The Fourth of July season is the biggest and highest risk,” said Capt. Mitch Matlow of San Jose Fire. “Fireworks land in vegetation or a dry roof, something is going to burn.”
This year, the City of San Jose promises an improved system to the city's online reporting tool after last year, several people were wrongly cited.
Calling it the “Snap, Click, Report” campaign, this year, residents now have the ability to upload video evidence. Last year, they didn’t.
“It’s a huge problem and there is no way with a million plus people out there in the city, 675 firefighters and couple police officers in San Jose can enforce,” said Capt. Matlow.
Jeff Guenther recalls the Ballybunyon fire last September that scorched 100 acres in Gilroy. It was caused by illegal fireworks.
“It was millions of dollars in damage and labor to put that out,” said Guenther.
His family enjoys the safe and sane fireworks. Booths are now sprouting up. Gilroy is unique since it's the only city in Santa Clara County that allows them.
Gunther said he now plans to download the app to help police stay one step ahead.
“Unfortunately a lot of industries are behind the times and if that's what law enforcement needs to do, I fully support it,” said Guenther.
In both cities, people can report illegal fireworks anonymously online and through the app. The first citation is $500. Fines go up from there.