Combating Illegal Dumping
By Deputy John Blenker of the Rural Crime Task Force
You’ve all seen it: A ragged broken sofa, rusted appliance, mounds of torn trash bags overflowing with household garbage piled along the side of a road. It’s an unsightly mess, illegal and a major problem for property owners in rural Sonoma County. Here are some tips to prevent the nuisance on your own land.
First: What is illegal dumping? It is the unlawful dumping of household wastes or other debris in places outside of permitted disposal sites. Open land, utility right-of-ways and other normally unattended locations fall prey to this activity.
Illegal dumping causes serious environmental problems and threatens the health of wildlife, domestic animals and humans. It pollutes public waterways and ground water. Dumped tires that trap water become breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other insects.
Why does this continue to be a problem in rural parts of our county? One of the reasons, unfortunately, appears to stem from an increase in fees at county disposal sites. In addition to being more expensive to dispose of trash at the landfills, it has also become considerably more complicated. “E-waste,” oil, automotive fluids and parts and recycling programs all have their own disposal sites. No longer is there one place to dump all types of trash. Now it all must be sorted and taken to different places. I think that these programs, beneficial though they are, have contributed greatly to the number of illegal dumping incidents
We receive numerous calls yearly for this problem. The Deputy District Attorney who handles environmental crimes cases has gone on a ride-a-long with me, seen the problem first-hand, and we have discussed the topic at length. It is difficult to develop a lead, let alone a conviction on suspects unless they were actually seen depositing the load. So it is important to get a good description of the person and a license plate number. If you can safely, snap pictures of miscreants and their vehicle with your camera phone that is helpful. I had a case where a local resident actually saw two males discarding 12 gallons of oil in containers on the side of the road. The witness did not get a good look at the subjects but noted their license plate and recorded a solid description of the car. Unfortunately, the case could not be prosecuted because the witness could not positively identify the subjects committing the act.
Some possible solutions to obtain workable information for us:
- Make it more difficult to dump on your property. Place a trail camera in an area that falls prey to illegal dumpers regularly. Increase lighting there or install some type of barrier. This may well discourage dumping in the first place or, ultimately, provide the evidence we need to make a case.
- Install “no dumping” signs.
- Report every instance of illegal dumping to the Sheriff or police agency with jurisdiction in your area whether you see it or not.
- If you are a victim of illegal dumping and a suspect is arrested and convicted, demand that the court seek restitution for the crime.
Remember that when an illegal dumping crime is committed, there may be hazardous material associated with it. It may also be evidence of another crime. In some of those piles of trash we have discovered toxic drug lab garbage, weapons, explosives and other dangerous situations that posed a hazard to citizens. It is very important for your safety not to touch items that appear hazardous. Report it immediately to the Sheriff's Dispatch or your local police agency.
In previous articles I spoke of "target hardening." This simply means to take steps that make it less likely for you to become a crime victim. Those same tactics make it more difficult for people to dump on your land, as well. Identify the hot spots where dumping occurs and increase lighting or install some sort of barrier. Increasing the risk of the offender getting caught could help prevent the activity. Informing the public by placing signs along your property lines that includes no dumping/no trespassing warnings may deter dumping as well.
As always if you wish to discuss or report an illegal dumping incident please contact one of your Rural Crime task force Deputies or report it to Sheriff's Dispatch at 707-565-2121.