July 2, 2020


For today Critical Issues Report, we interviewed police leaders about their plans for coping with multiple challenges over the 4th of July weekend.


Key Takeaways

--  As most cities have canceled or scaled back official 4th of July celebrations, they are expecting more private fireworks displays, and larger displays, in neighborhoods. These can be more challenging in terms of the potential for violence and the staffing needs of police departments.

--  Cities are expecting police reform protests over the 4th of July weekend. In some cases, these are being led by more fringe elements (both left and right), so the potential for problems could be high.

--  Many cities are also dealing with a spike in gun crime and other violence. The hot weather and the holiday weekend could exacerbate that. “Celebratory” gunfire remains a problem in many cities. It’s dangerous and takes up police resources.

--  COVID-19 concerns remain; they’re the reason most cities canceled fireworks. Large gatherings of people for 4th of July celebrations could result in new spikes in COVID infections.

--  Most types of fireworks are illegal in many cities, but large quantities still come in from neighboring jurisdictions. Police are working on interdiction strategies, but believe they only catch a small fraction of the illegal fireworks.

--  With all of these factors, agencies expect a greater demand on services and increased overtime costs over the holiday weekend. Some are facing major cuts to their budgets, including overtime funding.


Chicago Chief of Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Eric Carter:

With No Official July 4th Celebration, We’re Expecting Different Problems

There’s no official Fourth of July celebration sponsored by the city of Chicago this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. But we are preparing for small neighborhood celebrations and public gatherings citywide.

We’ve activated our Emergency Operations Center beginning Thursday from 1:30 p.m. until 4 a.m. Then it will operate on a 22-hour basis starting Friday, from 6 a.m. to 4 a.m.

We’ve mobilized all our city resources citywide, including tow trucks and Streets and Sanitation.

Due to the COVID crisis and the two-week deployment during the George Floyd protests and looting incidents, we won’t be going into a 12-hour tour for officers. But we are cancelling one day off on a rotating basis throughout this weekend, so that we have additional manpower. It should give us 1,200 additional officers each day who we can assign to the parks, along the lakefront, to the central business district, or to quell neighborhood unrest.

We’re more worried about shooting incidents than anything else, because there’s no official fireworks. For us, the annual fireworks at Navy Pier bring in about 150,000-200,000 people to Navy Pier and a total of 3 to 4 million people along the lakefront. But with no fireworks, we’re focusing on violence in the neighborhoods. 

It’s going to be a lot more labor-intensive, because usually people congregate on the lakefront. In the past we could always make it predictable on the 16 miles of lakefront. The largest concentrations would be downtown and a mile on either side of Navy Pier, then they’d be spread sporadically on the remaining 14 miles of lakefront. There were still sporadic fireworks in the neighborhoods, but many Chicagoans would be at the lakefront.

Now that everyone will be in their own neighborhood and scattered throughout the city, we have to adjust our resources to deal with that.

We’re 10 minutes from the Indiana state line, where fireworks are legal. So we always have individuals setting off fireworks. We will be dealing with that throughout the evening and into the early morning hours. It’s a regular occurrence, so we’re prepared for that.

We know the fireworks will disrupt ShotSpotter sensors around the city, so we’ll see some shooting incidents disguised as fireworks.


Las Vegas Metropolitan Deputy Chief James Seebock:

We Have No City-Sponsored Events, and None of the Main Hotels Are Doing Fireworks

Our state, and Las Vegas specifically, is in Phase 2 of reopening, which means that businesses and casinos are allowed to reopen, but they have to stay at 50% of capacity or less. The governor has a mask order in place.

There are tourists coming in. The flight volume at our main airport, McCarron, is still down significantly compared to last year at this time. Most, but not all, hotels are now open, and I believe the occupancy rate is around 50% for this weekend.

We’ve significantly changed our Fourth of July plans. In past years, Las Vegas Boulevard, which is our main tourist corridor, would be at maximum capacity. This year we’re not seeing that many people. There are also no city-sponsored events, which normally occur in a few of our large parks. As of right now, none of the main hotels are doing fireworks, which they have done in the past.

There are three public locations for fireworks. None are near any major parks, and one has not even given an exact time, to try to prevent a crowd from forming. At those locations, people usually just park and watch from their vehicles, so we’re not expecting large crowd gatherings.

Any fireworks that leave the ground are illegal here in Las Vegas, but the next county over sells those types of fireworks legally. In years past we would have a task force that would target areas where we see significant illegal firework activity.  We are still doing that this year, in partnership with the Fire Department, but with slightly fewer resources dedicated to that.

The fireworks team’s approach will be to first educate, then warn, then confiscate, then cite or enforce.

We’re aware of another large protest that is supposed to occur on the Fourth of July, so our resources are being diverted to prepare for that. Additionally, we are seeing an increase in crime in our hot spots compared to last year.

We’ve had a command post set up, first to deal with COVID and then in a dual role with the protests. For the Fourth of July weekend, we’re staffing it with extra leadership and resources to address crime, which traditionally increases with additional people outside. We’re deploying our violent crime initiative teams to those persistent hot spots.

ShotSpotter will be turned off because of the fireworks.


NYPD Chief of Department Terry Monahan:

We Have a Lot on Our Plate, And It’s Going to Be a Tough Weekend in New York

Macy’s, which does our fireworks show, has cancelled for this year, so there will be no spectator viewing. They’re going to do a five-minute show above the Empire State Building, but there’s no organized viewing.

Our big problems will come throughout the city. We’ve had a huge uptick in violence over the last couple weeks, and we’re expecting a lot more of the same over this weekend.

The illegal neighborhood fireworks shows have been the largest we’ve seen in a long, long time. We have teams that try to intercept the fireworks as they come in. Pennsylvania is very close, and fireworks are sold legally there and brought in by the truckloads. We’ve made a lot of seizures, but it’s really just a finger in the dam of what’s getting out there.

We just underwent a budget cut of $1 billion dollars, which includes a 60% cut in overtime over the course of the year. We may use most of that overtime budget just this weekend, considering the number of cops we’ll need on the street to keep things under control throughout the city.

In addition to the fireworks, the protests are still going pretty strong. Occupy City Hall is a group that’s living right outside City Hall. There are almost 1,000 people every night. Tuesday night we had confrontations with them as they took construction materials out into the middle of the street to build walls. We had to move in to take that down. We have to deploy a couple hundred cops there every single night. There are calls for action by these confrontational groups on the Fourth of July, because they think we’re going to be too engaged with other things around the city. Most protesters are gone, and now we’re dealing with confrontational groups.

My biggest concern is the violence over this weekend. Traditionally with large groups, we would move in and make arrests for quality-of-life violations to temper down the crowds and get them to leave. But we’re facing a new law passed by City Council that makes it a crime if, when you are taking someone into custody and you’re fighting or wrestling with them, your knee ends up on their back. No intent is necessary, but if your knee ends up on their back you’ve committed a misdemeanor. It has all our cops wondering how they can take someone who’s fighting them into custody, and makes them very resistant to making a quality-of-life arrest, which most of our district attorneys don’t want to deal with anyway.

We have a lot on our plate this week, and it’s going to be a tough weekend here in New York.


Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Chief Pete Newsham:

We’re Expecting Demonstrations, Illegal Fireworks, and Firing of Guns

From the outset, there were no permits issued for any Fourth of July parades, and the organizers of the parades we usually have in the city were all very cooperative in cancelling their events.

There’s a dichotomy between what the city wants and what the federal government wants to do. There will be a 35-minute fireworks show. Prior to last year, the fireworks show lasted 25 minutes, so this is 10 minutes longer. Prior to the fireworks show, there’s going to be an event at the White House where the President will speak and there will be a series of flyovers.

The city has asked people not to come out because of the remaining COVID-19 concerns. We don’t know what the numbers will look like.

We have 21 demonstrations that we know of, and I think two of those will be significant, in the thousands or tens of thousands. Those are going to start early in the day. We have information that a couple of the far-right groups are going to be in the city, so we anticipate there will be some disputes when the groups meet up with each other.

We’re going to have to use a lot of resources to deal with the protests. Intertwined with the protests will be the confrontational demonstrators, who have essentially remained here in Washington. They have become less active, and most of our arrests have been of a very small group, probably fewer than 40. But they have been very persistent in their attempts to assault police officers and damage property.

I believe we’ll have a lot of activity out in our communities. There seems to be an increase in the supply of fireworks this year. Anything that explodes or goes up in the air is illegal here. The way we normally try to address fireworks is by interdicting it on the front end. We’ve had some success, but, as Chief Monahan said, it’s like putting your finger in the dam.

We have two days every year when people like to fire their firearms in a celebratory fashion: New Year’s and the Fourth of July. We have tactical teams who will be out there monitoring that. Most firearms being fired are illegally possessed, and our teams do a good job of making a significant number of arrests, but we’re not going to be able to get them all.

We’re going to have a combination of the community activity, with fireworks and potentially violent crime, the demonstrations, and this fireworks display and flyover. So I think it’s going to be a tough day for MPD.


San Diego Captain Matt Novak:

The Issues for Us in Beach Areas Are Alcohol, Parties, and the Violence That Comes from Those

I’m the captain of our Northern Division, which has a vast majority of our beaches where most of our Fourth of July activity occurs. The normal beach population on a busy summer weekend is about 250,000. On a Fourth of July weekend we have about a million people down at the beach. The issues for us in the beach areas are alcohol, parties, and the violence that comes from those.

We have some gunfire issues. We have teams to respond to those, based on both ShotSpotter and radio calls.

All city fireworks shows have been cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, so we won’t have to deal with those issues. It is illegal in the city of San Diego to set off fireworks, but we do have individuals and parties that set them off. We deal with those using our municipal codes and officers responding.

We triple or quadruple our staffing downtown and on the beach for Friday-Sunday.

We also still have protests. There are 6-7 protests planned for the Fourth of July. Our protests have gotten smaller and more peaceful as the weeks have gone on. Our numbers are in the hundreds, rather than the thousands, at this point. But we will have a couple protests at the beach that we’ll have to deal with in addition to our regular Fourth of July issues.


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.

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