Scofflaw fireworks mischief rattles nerves July 4
■ By Taj Shorter / City Reporter
Fourth of July was memorable for many reasons – one of them being the evening fireworks that rang throughout local neighborhoods, which either amplified the excitement of all the festivities or disturbed many of those ready to retire in their homes after the eventful holiday.
After receiving a letter to the editor from a concerned citizen of Hemet regarding his opinion of the local police department’s response – or lack thereof – to illegal fireworks, the Chronicle reached out to the Hemet Police Department to get their side of events.
Lt. Glen Brock arranged for me to visit police headquarters on July 12. He was adamant about addressing this citizen’s concern and explaining any misunderstanding of police work conducted during the Fourth of July holiday.
Brock, a 12-year veteran of the department, right away addressed the points made in the letter as we sat down in his office and began the interview. “I will never tell anyone that we’re too busy to help or that we’re short on manpower. Everyone can always use more manpower. I wish we had a hundred cops out there all the time…but we’ll never use that as a crutch,” said Brock. “Every call is important.”
Brock said HPD had five officers and a supervisor working on July 4, which isn’t the kind of staffing they would have liked to have but they did the best they could. The department’s dispatch center received a total of 857 calls that day with an average call length of 1 minute and 49 seconds. He continued to run through the numbers with me, pointing out from his collected data that 97.8 percent of the calls answered by dispatch were answered within 40 seconds or less. The goal is to answer calls within 15 seconds, but Brock explained that it was difficult to do so with 857 calls being handled by only two dispatch officers on duty.
There were a total of 47 service calls where officers were dispatched in response to fireworks. Of those, police issued three citations and made one arrest during the holiday. In California, for an officer to arrest someone for an infraction or a misdemeanor – fireworks can fall in either category – it has to have happened in front of them. Brock made it clear that even though the calls about illegal fireworks being used were most likely correct, an officer would have had to witness the act in order to arrest or hold someone accountable. Basically, the police can’t just act from “he said she said.”
In particular, from the hours of 8 – 10 p.m. when fireworks were the most active, Brock confirmed that the department received the highest volume of calls. For example, during the 5 o’clock hour they received only 33 calls but from 8-9 p.m. they received 112. Not all were 911 emergency calls, as Brock clarified, because the total includes non-emergency as well. “Our average response time for the entire day was 13 minutes and 42 seconds.”
One of the other concerns raised from the author of our letter was that the resident lived only three blocks away from the police station, but was reportedly put on hold for 10 minutes when they called to report fireworks. Brock addressed this issue and showed me the HPD call log that failed to show any record of someone on hold for 10 minutes. He suggested that it was possible the caller called 911 from a cell phone and was automatically directed to CHP (California Highway Patrol), which services a broader range of cities in the area. “Imagine how many calls CHP got, so your hold time is probably going to be a little more extended,” said Brock, who formerly worked with the LAPD.
He further explained saying, “People forget that our ‘little’ city is 28.7 square miles – it’s a decent-sized city with 90,000 people.” According to the lieutenant, response times vary because officers receive calls while they are already out. This means they don’t necessarily head back to the station to await the next call. In any instance, an officer can be on the opposite side of town from the location of a call or a more urgent call can come in and delay the response time for the other. He then informed me that the department is working to obtain technology that will better filter dispatch calls.
The data that Brock provided comes from ECaTS (Emergency Call Tracking System), an online informational tool used to help the department keep track of their dispatches.
After an extensive interview, including a full tour of the police department and dispatch center, HPD was able to address many concerns about the delays in police response during the Independence Day holiday.