Oahu sees spike in illegal fireworks arrests, citations linked t - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Oahu sees spike in illegal fireworks arrests, citations linked to New Year's celebrations

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This photo shows illegal aerials confiscated on New Year's Eve in Wahiawa. Image Source: Honolulu Police Department This photo shows illegal aerials confiscated on New Year's Eve in Wahiawa. Image Source: Honolulu Police Department
Officers confiscated 2,200 pounds of fireworks in Waipahu last week. Image Source: Honolulu Police Department Officers confiscated 2,200 pounds of fireworks in Waipahu last week. Image Source: Honolulu Police Department
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Honolulu police cited two and a half times as many people this year for illegal fireworks compared to the last two years.

The jump came as Oahu residents report an apparent uptick in the use of banned aerial fireworks.

Meanwhile, a state senator who's studied illegal fireworks said he believes many of the illegal aerials arrive in Hawaii in shipping containers at Honolulu Harbor, where domestic cargo gets much less scrutiny than cargo from foreign ports.

HPD reported receiving more than 2,800 fireworks-related complaints last month and New Year's Day. Officers handed out more than twice as many fireworks tickets: 151 citations this year compared to around 60 in each of the last two years.

While there were no arrests in 2013 and 2014 for illegal fireworks, HPD made five arrests this year.

"We were addressing public complaints either through citations and follow up,” said HPD Assistant Chief Alan Bluemke. “New Year's Eve, we actually had a lot of full staffing in both uniform and plain clothes officers out there to assist in enforcement."

HPD confiscated about 2,884 pounds of illegal fireworks from Dec. 1 to Jan. 2, officials said. Most of that – 2,220 pounds -- was in a Waipahu bust last week.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said illegal aerials seemed to be a bigger problem during this year's celebrations.

"It's disturbing that people are not following the required laws. And here's the point: it does result in harm being done to folks," Caldwell told Hawaii News Now on Monday.

A fire caused by illegal aerials badly damaged a home in Ewa Beach on New Year's Eve.

State Sen. Will Espero, who co-chaired an illegal fireworks task force, worries a lot of the illegal aerials are coming in through shipping ports.

Espero said just 10 percent of the domestic cargo containers that come to Hawaii by ship are inspected and none of them are checked for explosives.

"The odds are good that your container will not be inspected.  And for someone with a criminal mind, they play the odds because the risks are low," Espero said.

A spokesman for shipping company Matson said some containers on each ship that arrives are inspected to make sure their inventories are accurate, but they could not disclose what percentage of them are actually checked.

Espero said he's going to introduce legislation for the state to do more cargo inspections and to pay for explosive-sniffing dogs at shipping ports.

The mayor agreed more needs to be done, but also said increased enforcement would be tough.

"You'd like to be able to stop it at the borders, but it's really hard. People bring them in, either through air or through freight. It's hard to catch each one of these," he said.

Novelty items such as sparklers and small fountains are illegal on Oahu but allowed on the neighbor islands.

Hawaii News Now spoke to an Oahu man who was able to smuggle them in his checked suitcase from Molokai this year.

"When we came over, they just pushed the checked luggage straight to the plane and I didn't see it go through a scanner or nothing like that," said the man, who declined to be identified. "There was a lot of (illegal fireworks) stuff going off in my neighborhood and it was real easy access to get them if you wanted more."

HPD said it's doing the best it can to enforce fireworks laws, but officials said an out-and-out statewide ban on all fireworks would make it easier to stop fireworks from coming in from the neighbor islands.

Caldwell added fireworks laws are difficult to enforce on Oahu: "The hard thing, as you know, is they have to catch you in the act of setting one off and that's really hard to do.  That's like catching someone when they are speeding. The officer needs to be there and actually witness it."

An HPD veteran said officers are “overwhelmed” with fireworks complaints on New Year's Eve and New Year’s Day.

HPD logged 1,782 fireworks calls in 2015, plus 233 on December 31 and 233 on New Year's Day.

“The burden of proof is on the police,” the longtime officer said. “They are at a disadvantage because they are in marked cars or cars with blue lights and people hide when they see a police officer. But as soon as the cop leaves the neighborhood, out come the illegals again.”

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