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NYC to crack down on illegal fireworks sales as complaints skyrocket

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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday a "multiagency crackdown on illegal fireworks suppliers" as the phenomenon of nightly fireworks persists across the city, Long Island and beyond.  Credit: NY Mayor's Office

New York City plans to try to address skyrocketing complaints of illegal fireworks by targeting the "root" — sellers and distributors — rather than sending the police after those setting them off, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.

There would be an education campaign and sting operations inside and outside the city to "go disrupt and work to cut off that supply," he said at his daily news conference.

"We want to go after the big fish," he said.

His announcement came the morning after a late-night protest at Gracie Mansion, the mayoral residence on Manhattan's Upper East Side, at which demonstrators fed up over the city's approach to all-night fireworks honked their horns in unison.

“If we cannot sleep, we will not let the mayor sleep,” Councilman Chaim Deutsch said with about 250 vehicles nearby, according to the news outlet Hamodia.

More fireworks have gone off since protests of George Floyd's death began in late May. Video on social media has shown NYPD cops driving through — and away — as a hail of people set off fireworks.

There were 24,850 complaints of illegal fireworks made to 311 and 911 between Jan. 1 and Sunday, compared with 1,061 complaints for the same period in 2019, according to Det. Denise Moroney, an NYPD spokeswoman. Most of this year's calls were made this month, she said. 

De Blasio said a task force to combat fireworks sales would consist of 10 officers from NYPD's Intelligence Bureau, 12 FDNY fire marshals and 20 members of the city sheriff's department.

"We know that on beautiful summer nights like we're having now, unfortunately some young people are turning to the wrong approach," de Blasio said.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Tuesday at a news conference that there were "more calls than ever" about illegal fireworks and that the county was working to set up a way to report complaints.

Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart on Tuesday said the department had made two fireworks-related arrests this year: one man, on June 18, was accused of selling them out of his home in West Babylon and another, on Feb. 25, who allegedly had them in his vehicle during a traffic stop in Copiague.

Her department released statistics showing six arrests for all of 2019, 11 for 2018, 16 for 2017, 17 for 2016 and 11 for 2015. The Nassau police press office didn't respond to a request for information.

City Sheriff Joseph Fucito says it is a federal crime to transport fireworks from one state to another, if that state has stricter laws on fireworks. He said there could be a federal civil suit or "the criminal component where we catch the individuals transporting a significant amount of contraband into the city. We can seize the fireworks and we can issue appearance tickets or make an arrest."

For years, the NYPD had threatened to arrest or issue summonses to anyone who illegally possesses fireworks, but de Blasio appeared cool to that approach. 

"In a lot of cases, you can't intervene if someone shoots off a firework and then they're gone. It's not a good use of police time and energy. The way to go at this is at the root, cut off the supply, and engage parents and families telling them they have to step up here too, to help us get kids to stop doing this, because it's not good for anyone, and it's not safe."

With Robert Brodsky

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