Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that New York was launching an offensive against the illegal use and distribution of fireworks, after complaints about a nighttime cacophony flooded the city’s help and emergency phone lines.
The effort will focus on using law enforcement agencies to disrupt the supply of fireworks to the city, including undercover operations “to fetch these illegal fireworks from the base,” Mr. de Blasio said at a press conference. .
“We are going to do it now and address it immediately,” he said.
New York City residents have reported booms and crackles in increasing numbers in recent days. The city received more than 12,500 calls to its 911 system for illegal fireworks this month, according to police. That’s about 12 times the number of comparable calls received by the city in the first six months of 2019, police said.
In Brooklyn, where many of the fireworks are heard, more than 4,500 fireworks complaints reached the city’s 311 system in June, police said. That’s more than 80 times the number of 311 calls received by the city in the first six months of 2019.
The surge came at a time when New York City was already on the brink of both the coronavirus pandemic and weeks of protests against systemic racism and police brutality.
Following the mayor’s announcement, some residents voiced concern on Twitter that the city would use police to tackle fireworks, at a time of widespread reassessment of the role of the police.
Mr. de Blasio sought to allay those concerns, and said the task force, which includes 10 police officers, 12 firefighters and 20 investigators from the city sheriff’s office, would attack “the big shot.”
“We are going to start from the largest operations, not focused on the child in the corner,” said Mr. de Blasio. “We are focused on the people who really benefit and really distribute a lot of fireworks.”
The researchers will examine the sale of fireworks within the city, as well as in the surrounding states, focusing on those that supply and benefit from the sale of fireworks. When asked if the city would also crack down on people who fire illegal fireworks, Mr. de Blasio said the “deepest problem” was cutting off the supply.
“In many cases, you cannot intervene if someone fires a firework and they are gone,” he said. “It is not a good use of the time and energy of the police.”
The city’s public defender Jumaane Williams, who has participated in several recent protests and is a strong advocate of police reform, applauded the decision to focus on the fireworks supply chain.
But Mr. Williams said he would need to see how the application developed on the ground. He added that he was disappointed that the city did not make an effort to support clergy and community groups that targeted people who activated the fireworks.
“This fireworks thing is a great time to show how we can chart a new future for the police,” Williams said.
The city’s plan came about when fireworks videos and images were widely shared on social media, and people even shot each other in some cases. Fireworks have also been reported in other cities across the country, such as Oakland, California, and Baltimore.
For some, lighting fireworks has been a form of catharsis in the pandemic, and a means of challenging and protesting against what they see as a flawed criminal justice system.
But for others, fireworks have been a nuisance, spreading fear and anxiety among a population already stressed by the coronavirus and quarantine.
Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who represents parts of Brooklyn, has been pressing the city to do more to end illegal fireworks. On Monday night, Mr. Deutsch joined several people honking their car horns on the outskirts of the Gracie Mansion in protest to try to get Mr. de Blasio to strengthen the city’s response to illegal fireworks.
“We need to send a message that we must end these chaotic fireworks that have been happening across the city,” Deutsch said in a video posted to Twitter Tuesday morning. “If we can’t sleep, you can’t sleep.”
Mr. Deutsch also circulated a petition urging Mayor de Blasio to do more to control the illegal fireworks. He said that as of Monday afternoon, the petition had collected more than 10,000 signatures.
Fireworks are illegal to buy, sell, or light in New York, but they are an ingrained tradition of city streets, especially in working-class neighborhoods. They are generally sold in duffel bags or car trunks and start in the days leading up to July 4.
But this year, the unauthorized exhibits started at least a month earlier than usual, as other warm-weather gatherings were halted by social distancing rules.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Mr. de Blasio also said the city would not host the traditional Macy’s fireworks show on the fourth of July. Instead, there will be a series of smaller shows in the five boroughs from June 29 to July 1.
Each show will not be announced and will last about five minutes, Mr. de Blasio said, in an effort to keep people from gathering in large groups to watch.
“People will be able to see different pieces at different points,” he said. “It is going to be something very special for the city, very special, very moving, but also very safe.”