HomeSalinas Neighborhood Tests Drone Against Illegal Fireworks

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One of the hottest spots in Salinas for illegal fireworks was under aerial surveillance on the Fourth of July.

As the day turned to dusk, a south Salinas neighborhood became the focus of a pilot project to see how a drone can be used to locate and report the use of illegal fireworks.

No official results were reported on Sunday. But if city and police authorities can be convinced of their benefit, drones might be seen against the rockets red glare during future holidays.

Wayne Briggs was at the undisclosed base station where a drone overhead was transmitting live video surveillance of fireworks activity Saturday night.

Briggs is the president of the Los-Olivos-Riker Neighborhood Association.

He said he watched the video display and also walked through the neighborhood to observe the fireworks.

Briggs said Salinas City Councilman Steve McShane has studied fireworks use across the city, and the Los Olivos-Riker area gets more than its share every holiday.

“Our area is head and shoulders above what else goes on in other parts of Salinas,” said Briggs, a city resident for the past 10 years, six of those in the Los Olivos-Riker neighborhood.

“I notice it. Every year it seems to get more and more and better fireworks” in his neighborhood, he said.

The drone experiment was conducted in collaboration with the Los-Olivos-Riker Neighborhood Association, Monterey Drone, and TNT Fireworks, a supplier of “safe and sane” state-approved fireworks.

Dennis Revell, CEO of TNT, said in a statement that the company provided the association with a grant to cover the cost of the pilot project. He said TNT has worked with the state fire marshal for the past 25 years to promote the Statewide Fireworks Safety and Education Project.

Revell said drones can lead to better city enforcement against illegal fireworks use. He noted that Salinas collects a 7 percent surcharge on all legal fireworks sales — sales that have generated more than $300,000 for such enforcement in the past five years. Revell said the city has spent only about $70,000 of that toward enforcement.

What Briggs saw Saturday night was “a really good aerial view of fireworks that were not legal. He said you could see people walking around, though not identifiable.

The drone videotaped for about an hour, he said.

Briggs said he was not sure how, if at all, the information obtained through the drone project would be used.

He said nothing yet had been planned, and that McShane has had some conversations at the City Council level.

A review of the video indicates that it would be easy for authorities to identify a house where illegal fireworks are being launched.

Briggs said that the use of drones might become a deterrent to illegal activity once the word gets out.

Briggs said there was no increased police patroling of the neighborhood on Saturday. But at about 11 p.m. he said police showed up en mass because someone had called in about a fight. To his knowledge, he said, the response had nothing to do with the drone.

“We learned a lot about how extensive fireworks are used, even more than those set off in the air,” he said. “It can put us in a good position to control the fireworks set off over here.”

No one from the city Police Department was available to comment on the project or its possible effects on privacy rights.

McShane was unavailable for comment on Sunday but said in an earlier statement: “This is a promising technology that can help law enforcement get to the right place … and put a stop to illegal aerial displays and dangerous explosives. What criminal will want to use illegal fireworks when they know a drone can catch them in the act?”

“I think the (drone pilot project) was a success,” Briggs said. “We’ll have to see where it leads,” he said. “The primary job is the safety of the neighborhood.”