Residents criticize San Jose launch of online illegal fireworks reporting tool

The City of San Jose is launching its online tool where people can report illegal activity during the summer fireworks season. However, the reporting system has had problems in the past and now, some residents said they have little faith it can much of a difference.

Signs warning people about illegal fireworks are up at fire houses and soon billboards in San Jose.

“If you take a picture of the fireworks and you get a nice pretty blast in the sky of the fireworks it doesn't tell us who is setting them off,” said Capt. Mitch Matlow of the San Jose Fire Department.

The City of San Jose is activating its online reporting tool, which is up three times a year around New Year’s, Chinese New Year and Fourth of July. Residents can “snap, click, report” people setting off explosives and upload pictures and video as evidence.

“It’s nice but I doubt it will have any effect at all because I don't think the city wants to arrest or cite anybody,” said Jeff Levine of San Jose. 

Levine said the tool is a waste of time. His home surveillance cameras have captured illegal fireworks through the years.

Back in 2017, the City of San Jose got burned after it rescinded all of the fines it issued. Residents complained they were wrongly cited because of the online reporting tool.

Last year, the city received more than 1,100 online reports but only issued four citations and 88 warnings.

“It’s not a bad tool, it's just that people haven't figured out how to use it yet the vast majority of the people in the city, country are not trained in evidence collection, they aren't trained with what the courts require,” said Capt. Matlow.

“I don't think we need another app,” said Tina Morrill of San Jose. “We’ve had to do a lot of massaging for this particular tool.”

Morrill is with the Stop Illegal Fireworks group in San Jose. She’d like to see the city prioritize funding and resources with extra officers manning known hotspots like Alviso. KTVU was in Alviso last July 4. People there hosted elaborate unsanctioned fireworks shows the whole night.

“What were the police doing, handing out popcorn because I didn't see any citations issued,” said Morrill.

“We can only enforce the rules and the law, when it's safe to the do the enforcement,” said Capt. Matlow. “If it will create a bigger problem by enforcing at that point the decision has to be made to step back and avoid confrontation.”

Fire officials said it will take years of messaging and enforcement to stop illegal fireworks. The online reporting tool is active until July 8. If you’re caught with illegal fireworks, fines start at $500.