Bang, Bang, Bang: Were those fireworks or gunshots?

The following post was originally published in July 2011. Some of the persons interviewed have retired or changed jobs since the post was published.

Many Eastsiders have been asking this question as the upcoming Fourth of July holiday promises to deliver the annual barrage of fireworks with the occasional burst of gunfire or at least what sounds like gunfire. Police instruct residents to call 911 when they hear gunshots. But that can get confusing when your neighborhood is filled with the sounds of bombs bursting in air during July 4 celebrations (remember to keep pets indoors).

How do you know if that popping sound down the block is an M-80 fire cracker, a 9 mm semi-automatic or a 12-gauge shotgun? The Eastsider asked some folks who are familiar with the sounds of the season to help tell the difference.

Capt. Bill Murphy, LAPD Northeast Division:

Some fireworks are more rapid – think of firecrackers, very fast and random – as opposed to gun fire, which can be a consistent sound. Firing a 9 MM will give off the same sound for each shot. Also, some fireworks can be very loud and a one-time explosion (think big rocket). They also have a sound associated with the launch before the explosion (sizzling sound from the wick/fuse lighting). Hopefully, this helps a little.

Sally Fernandez, spokeswoman with Safety Dynamics, a maker of gun shot recognition systems:

Let me just say in general that firecracker and small arms fire – like a 9 mm or a 22 – sound signatures are very, very similar. That being said, it is very difficult to distinguish between the two with the normal ear. Gunshot systems use a variety of technologies to reduce this confusion. Police departments, if they get a gunshot alert, are able to see video of what caused the gunshot (i.e.; the person or vehicle that it came from) or hear the gunshot. This helps them to reduce the confusion between the two events. Unfortunately, the average person is left with their ears only.

Senior Lead Officer Albert Polehonki, LAPD Northeast Division:

Sometimes its hard to tell the difference for us as well. My best explanation is that gunshots are usually heard in a distinct sequence, or a steady pattern, sometimes fast or slow depending on how fast the shooter pulls the trigger. Firecrackers usually don`t have any pattern especially when a whole package is lit.

Darin Williams, owner of Select Patrol*:

In most cases when I hear gunshots, it is most often a volley of multiple shots fired in rapid succession and not tremendously loud.

Lt. Wes Buhrmester, LAPD Rampart Division:

Most fireworks can be classified as sharp and low-volume, as with firecrackers, or booming, as in a small explosion (M80 and such). Also, most fireworks make a flash, if one is watching the skies or horizon. Gunshots are audibly more defined, and on July 4 or New Year’s Eve, often happen in succession, since those shots are often done in a “celebratory” manner. Of course, if one has any doubt, call the police and we will check it out.

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  1. I would like to suggest that anyone seeing fireworks being shot off in their neighborhood or in parks contact police. Please. LAPD officers have told me that on July 4th there are illegal fireworks being set off on every street in Echo Park and they don’t have enough officers to cite, arrest, or simply put a stop to those who set them off. But if people would report fireworks being set off at other times, such as in June and before and after July 4 surely officers will be able to respond?

    The noise of illegal fireworks being set off practically in our backyards is hellish, but the fireworks are also potential fire starters. Maybe the editor of The Eastsider would consider publishing pictures of past fires caused by “neighborhood” fireworks, such as that which occurred last New Year’s Eve on Clinton St in Echo Park. Trees were blazing, and embers flew to a neighboring apartment building balcony; thankfully, there were many firefighters present to put out the fire. Maybe a few pictures will remind people of the potential effects of illegal fireworks. There are fires out of control all over California right now. Don’t add to the firefighters’ burden by taking a chance of starting another one.

  2. Unfortunately, nope

    I already spoke with the lead officer for our area after weeks of my dogs shaking uncontrollably, and then seeing another spooked dog run across the street and get hit by a car. It seems way more frequent this year than in years past, so I asked if they were going to enforce the ban prior to the 4th. She directly said they do not have the resources and would not be enforcing or citing any illegal fireworks and that the best they could do is hope the hillside doesn’t catch fire, which is a little more concerning this year considering the extreme drought. I guess you could try calling your councilman’s office. Unfortunately, for now the best you can do is keep your pets tagged and securely locked up, and hope no homes/the park catch fire. Anyone who can volunteer at a shelter this week or foster a dog, this is the most crowded week of the year at our local shelters due to spooked runaway pets, and as a result, many adoptable animals are put down to make more room.

    • Thank you. Good advice for those with dogs, but my pets are inside cats and end up petrified and under the bed. I worked hard by phone and emails last July 4th to get support from LAPD, Garcetti, Cedillo and O’Farrell, asking that LAPD respond to illegal fireworks calls and take action. (If I weren’t chronically ill I would have done this face-to-face.) I heard back only from Cedillo’s office re emails. Received call back from LAPD officer on the fourth in response to my calls to non-emergency number. Said the same thing an LAPD desk officer told me, can’t keep up with the fireworks, all over every street here in Echo Park, not enough officers to handle. “It’s been the same for the fifteen years I’ve lived in L.A., ” per one. Well, yes. No consequence = no change. The Fourth of July is a yearly event, and police can plan for it. We’ve had shootings and other violence here for years too, but the police don’t just sit back and ignore them.

  3. Chill out, People. Yes it sucks that pets are upset by fireworks and yes you should keep pets inside; However, Tradition is tradition and you don’t speak for the whole neighborhood. In fact, you’re likely a NEW resident.
    Fireworks are a part of American tradition and are one of THE FEW releases available to folks in the inner city.
    You don’t speak for your neighbors and your sensibilities are not law, thank God.
    Have a nice summer. Thanks

    • Obeying the law should be the upheld tradition. “Few releases available”? That is simply pathetic. And no, I’m not “new,” but a Los Angeles native. Perhaps those who need a release could watch truly beautiful fireworks, rather than getting excited about nothing but loud blasts…as in my fireworks are louder than yours?


    • “You don’t speak for your neighbors and your sensibilities are not law, thank God.”

      Actually, it is the law.

      What part of “illegal fireworks” is not clear?

      My neighbor’s house caught fire a few years ago because of fireworks. We also happen to live in one of the most flammable parts of the country…… the people setting off the fireworks are pretty damn selfish and foolish. Shiny boom boom things for simple brains.

  4. Here is the Eastsider’s story, pictures and video about the New Year’s Eve fire that was set off by illegal neighborhood fireworks. When you stand in front of your house, nearly directly across from it, it is terrifying.


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