KC using hidden cameras to catch illegal dumpers
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- People who think they can get away with dumping their trash in Kansas City might want to be aware that they could be starring in a video that will provide evidence to help prosecutors convict them of a crime, city officials said.
In response to complaints from residents, city inspectors are installing 40 hidden surveillance cameras at some of the prime dumping spots around the city, The Kansas City Star reported Monday.
Illegal dumping is difficult to prosecute because there usually aren't any eyewitnesses.
"When we can get them on camera, there's nothing that can beat that," said assistant city prosecutor Todd Wilcher, who until now has prosecuted a handful of illegal dumping cases each month. Since the camera installation began a few weeks ago, Wilcher has already had one guilty plea and he predicts cases will increase as the cameras catch more dumping.
Besides being hard to prosecute, illegal dumping also is expensive to clean up. The city's solid waste division budgeted $1.5 million this year to clear the illegally dumped tires, lumpy furniture, piles of lumber and other garbage dumped across the city.
Kansas City residents can have two bags of trash picked up free each week. And the city picks up bulky items and yard waste on a regular basis.
But some people still toss their extra trash or bulky items from their vehicles or in secluded spots.
And haulers who are paid to dispose of construction debris or other items sometimes find it easier and cheaper to unload their loads in a street, creek or secluded area, city officials said.
After a few years without inspectors, the city has two inspectors and is using $15,000 from a federal crime-fighting grant to buy signs to deter the dumping, and cameras to catch those who don't heed the warnings, said Michael Schumacher of the Neighborhood and Community Services Department.
The signs will read: "NO DUMPING. AREA UNDER VIDEO SURVEILLANCE" and warn of fines up to $1,000.
Councilman John Sharp, who leads the City Council's public safety committee, said he believes the equipment will be successful, although he acknowledged the city can't police those areas sufficiently with inspectors. He predicted that once some offenders are caught, the dumping problem should diminish.
Code enforcement officer Ryan Kasper-Cushman, who was an illegal dumping investigator a few years before funding was cut, said he had to rely on the mail and other evidence in the trash, which was often too weak to stand up in court.
The cameras, which are about the size of a woman's wallet, will be placed in the worst spots for dumping. Kasper-Cushman said footage from the first cameras has shown that much of the dumping occurs during the day.
In one recent incident, Kasper-Cushman confronted a suspected dumper.
"I said, `I have you on video,"' Kasper-Cushman recalled. "He said, `I'm pleading guilty."'
The man was fined $400.
Schumacher is working with the city's Regulated Industries department to identify the worst tire dumping sites. Cameras could be used there, too, he said.
He acknowledged that only 40 cameras won't stop dumping across the city. But he added, "We will get more if this works well."