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Here Come the Citations: New City Law Helps Step Up Enforcement of Illegal Dumping

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The most commonly committed environmental crime in Los Angeles is illegal dumping and littering. For the Bureau of Street Services (BSS), it's a $12 million problem, but that doesn't include the money spent by business improvement districts, the parks department and other groups.

And to enforce the issue citywide, the city only has 35 full-time investigators (plus about 25 volunteer reserve officers), who have police powers and carry handcuffs and all law enforcement weapons except firearms. While job duties include enforcement of illegal dumping, they have 105 other city ordinances to police -- regulating the movement of overload trucks and monitoring illegal streets sales like pirated movies, to name two -- and a number of state laws.

Before, the only way to cite and arrest someone for illegal dumping -- it's a misdemeanor -- was to catch them in the act and involve the city attorney's office for criminal prosecution. Now a new city ordinance allows investigators to hold illegal dumpers accountable through an administrative process where citations can be made without involving the city attorney's office (think parking tickets). And as an added bonus, the public can be enlisted to help out.

“It also empowers our community and business partners to assist BSS in gathering evidence that can lead to fines being levied against illegal dumping perpetrators," explained Councilmember Jose Huizar, who authored the law. "This partnership could save the City much needed money and resources..."

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Basically, the ordinance allows investigators to administratively fine violators based on evidence found in illegally dumped trash. Groups like neighborhood councils, homeowners associations and business improvement districts can get trained to help out.

Why go through the city's specialized training program? Safety for one, says Chief Street Services Investigator Gary Harris. "Sometimes trash is a result of other illegal activities," such as meth and other narcotics, he said.

For those who hire cheap private trash haulers from Craigslist and Pennysaver, there might be a reason the services are so affordable. Harris said some haulers make money by taking trash from residences for a fee and then dumping it on the street elsewhere instead of paying to place it in a yard. If investigators find evidence leading back to the resident -- it's often information that could lead to identify theft -- they will try to track it to the hauler.

Fines start at $500 and increase to $700 and $1,000 for repeat violations. A fourth charge can lead to criminal prosecution. Los Angeles offers free bulky item curbside pick-up to those who call 3-1-1 and schedule a time.

For Harris, the overall message is the image of someone being handcuffed with their car getting impounded in the background. "Illegal dumping is a crime," he said. "It costs your neighbors and community dearly... it lowers property value and creates a public safety problem."