Program cracks down on litter, illegal dumping
Authorities secured eight illegal dumping convictions, and seven more pending cases look promising.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Tires piled into the bed of a pickup usually means they're getting dumped somewhere -- illegally.
That's why the truck drew attention one early October evening on the city's East Side.
Mahoning County deputy sheriffs Tony Smith and Bob Conway eyed the pickup as it moved along Victor Avenue. Moments later, the tires were in a trash bin near Kimmel Brook Homes, and Herman E. Garner of Youngstown was facing jail time.
The glance at that truck would add Garner to the growing list of convicted illegal dumping violators in the city.
Through October, the city's fledgling enforcement program has recorded eight criminal convictions. Violators are getting jail time, fines, probation and community service sentences. At least seven more dumping cases are pending. All the cases look promising for more convictions, said Charlene Taiclet, who manages the grant that funds the program.
"We haven't lost any of them," she said.
That's more success than city officials envisioned seven months after two deputies started patrolling city streets and investigating dumping.
Optimistic start: Calvin Jones, city street superintendent and director of the litter control and recycling, was optimistic when the program started. He hoped to see one case a month turn into a conviction but figured there would be glitches. Those have been few, however, and the results are meeting his target.
"I'm pleased. I don't have any complaints," Jones said.
Most of the city's 100 or so known illegal dump sites are on the South and East sides. The city easily spends $100,000 or more annually cleaning them up.
The city got a $47,000 grant for this year to start the program and has secured $45,000 for 2002.
Two deputies spend a combined 40 hours per week on litter patrols, investigating illegal dumping and attending court hearings.
Since equipment was bought this year, all 2002 money will be available to pay for deputies' time. Jones wants to add 20 to 30 hours more per week and thinks city council will fund it because of the success.
He and others credit the city municipal court system for helping make the program work.
Volunteer: Judge Elizabeth Kobly volunteers to hear illegal dumping cases and John A. Regginello, an assistant city prosecutor, is assigned to handle them.
Judge Kobly is tough about evidence but is handing out substantial sentences, they say. A first offense can bring 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. The penalties -- whether jail time, sizable fines or picking up tires as community service -- are sending the message to offenders that dumping is serious, they said.
Judge Kobly said she is taking each case on its merits. The high conviction rate is because the cases are being proven clearly, she said.
Judge Kobly remembers when spots such as Salt Springs Road were perpetual dump sites. When people dump there now, she is personally offended.
"I want to see our city be a place where people want to work and live," she said. "We all do our city a disservice if we don't keep our city clean."
Investigating illegal dumping is tedious but interesting, said Smith, a deputy who joined the patrol in September.
Investigations: Sorting through the trash for leads comes first. The deputies follow clues to track the dump pile to its source. That can take weeks because deputies may have to start with the manufacturer of an item and eventually trace the sale to whoever threw them out. Once that happens, the case usually comes together.
"When you have their name, they know they're caught. Usually they admit it. Or they give up the person who did it for them," Smith said. "It's not just cruising around. It's a lot of investigation."
Deputies can, and do, pursue offenders from another county who dump in the city. Several of those cases are pending.
Construction materials, such as roof shingles and leftover landscaping, make up much of what's illegally dumped in the city. Six of the first eight convictions are for dumping construction debris, and so are most of the pending cases.
Deputies had expected to be working mostly night shifts, but dumpers blatantly work in the open. Now, deputies spread their shifts throughout the day.
"They can go out at noon and catch them," Taiclet said.
Rewards offered: Deputies are developing relationships with neighbors to known dump sites, which is helping to catch offenders. The program recently gave its first $500 reward to be split between a pair of workers at a Salt Springs Road business. The tipsters provided information that helped authorities catch a violator.
Illegal dumping enforcement is providing unexpected benefits, too.
The Garner case is an example. The man was wanted on two driving-related warrants and was on probation for a traffic charge when he was accused of illegal dumping and arrested, court records show. Police charged a passenger in his truck with having crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia.
Dumping investigations also have turned into other cases. For example, a dog-fighting investigation started when deputies found several deceased, discarded canines. Pornographic tapes of children that were dumped in the city turned into a criminal case in Canton.
"Litter patrol" may sound like a less-than-choice assignment, but Smith said he likes the work and knows that it's important.
Residents tell him so.
"They want this stopped. They say they want this stopped," he said.