Illegal dumping crackdown announced in wake of I-Team 8 investigation

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Six months after an I-Team 8 investigation uncovered a nearly non-existent level of prosecutions for illegal dumping, city leaders gathered Thursday to announce a new plan to crackdown on the problem.

The evidence sits just off the beaten path in alleyways and side streets across the city. They’re being noticed, and reported, at record levels.

Since 2011, Indianapolis has received more than 60,000 complaints about trash and illegal dumping, including nearly 6,000 so far this year alone.

Mayor Greg Ballard said those images are directly tied to Indianapolis’ quality of life.

“Illegal dumping and trash lowers property values and encourages crime and vandalism,” he said during a news conference on the city’s southeast side. “Our goal here is to help those people who are innocent victims and help local neighborhoods clean up.”

Last fall I-Team 8 uncovered a dirty secret: those leaving the litter are almost never held accountable. City prosecutors filed just 38 cases for illegal dumping over the last three years, according to data provided by the Office of Corporation Counsel.

The problem is a lack of proof. Prosecutors don’t know who’s leaving the piles of junk.

Property owners who report them are often stuck with the cleanup bill. A popular alley dump site sits just a few feet from Kevin Dowden’s back door.

“People don’t care. Whenever they can get rid of stuff, or the easiest way they can get rid of stuff, that’s where they just leave it. This pile has been here for at least two months,” Dowden said, pointing to a broken TV, mattress cover, and collection of old car tires.

At a news conference a block away, city leaders promised those like Dowden will get a break.

Starting June 1, property owners who report illegal dumping and trash to the Mayor’s Action Center at (317) 327-4MAC will be offered the chance to sign an affidavit stating that the trash does not belong to them.

“The property owner may be a victim,” said Indianapolis Department of Code Enforcement Director Rick Powers. “And, they have the ability to tell us they are. And, we will step in and intervene in that process, to include abatement, for the first two times. After that, we expect a property owner to take proactive measures.”

That could include building a fence, posting signs, or other measures, Powers said, offering the city’s support with “creative ideas.”

If an affidavit is not signed and private property owners fail to clean up trash, city contractors will be dispatched to clean up the site and the property owner will be billed for the cleanup costs, similar to the city’s new high weeds and grass enforcement program. Fines will also mirror that program, adding up to $388 per infraction, Powers said.

Code Enforcement plans to hire 6 to 10 new inspectors to help launch the program, spokesman Adam Baker said.

It’s intended to prevent perennial problem properties, but critics said it won’t fix the bigger issue.

“The city can come out and clean it up. But, if we’re not doing something to crack down on the people who are doing this, they’re just going to keep doing it,” said City-County Councillor Zach Adamson (D-At Large).

Adamson, who lives just blocks away from the city’s chosen site for the news conference, said he was frustrated at the length of time it took for the city to arrive at this solution.

“Naturally I am,” he said. “Not only am I an elected representative in areas that are highly impacted by this situation, but I live in this neighborhood.”

Last year, I-Team 8 traveled to Louisville, where a $60,000 investment into a mobile camera system helped create at least 200 new illegal dumping prosecutions in 2013. Criminals were captured illegally dumping trash on tape and that evidence helped prosecutors prove their cases.

“If you put a camera in a neighborhood, most of the neighborhood knows it’s there. And, if it’s neighborhood dumping, it stops,” Louisville Solid Waste Manager Pete Flood told I-Team 8 last fall.

On Thursday, Powers announced plans to try to replicate that success.

Bids went out this week for the first two cameras dedicated to catching illegal dumping. Both will be mobile and able to be moved to problem areas, Powers said.

“This will be a slow start up,” he added. “We’ll have a couple. And, as funds become available, you’ll see an expansion of that program as well.”

When asked why implementation of such a program took so long, Powers said the city needed to ensure the images from such cameras were beneficial.

“A 5-foot tall, Caucasian man in a blue pickup truck does not get you a conviction,” he told I-Team 8. “We need something that will provide a license plate, some clear sense of identity so we can go after that party.”

“Part of it is making sure the technology is there to make sure that they’re positioned in a way that’s not obtrusive,” Adamson agreed. “I don’t want to live in an area that’s on lock-down in that sense. And, they have to have the resolution to really see and identify who’s doing this. The other part of the equation is money.”

Powers said Code Enforcement needed enough reserve funding to start the program. It now has those funds, he added. Expansion of the program, and eventually the purchase of additional high definition cameras, will be paid through the collection of fines.

“It will be penalties that we garner through the unsafe building programs, nuisance abatement initiatives that we currently have in place, that will pay for those costs on the front end,” Powers said.

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