Litterbug crackdown in Philadelphia

May 13, 2009 "It could be cleaner, definitely," said concerned city resident.

"I think we could do a better job in the city. I think there's just too much trash," added another resident.

Too much trash just plain stinks. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said he won't stand for it.

"We are beefing up our efforts," said Mayor Nutter.

On March 15th a white van pulled up to a vacant lot in northeast Philadelphia. The city said the driver dumped 110 tires right on the side of the road.

"We're trying to catch the violators in the act," said Thomas Conway with Philadelphia Neighborhood Services Division.

In recent weeks, the city started using a new tool to take on the people trashing the place. Covert cameras are being placed in "short dump hot spots." Hidden inside a box, the mobile camera snaps the accused offender in action.

"What they do is take a picture of the violator. It's a digital camera. We just download the pictures onto a laptop computer and then we're going to go after the individuals after we get a license plate and prosecute them," added Conway.

The hidden cameras will move all over the city monitoring areas where people often sneak to dump their unwanted stuff. One camera caught the tire-dumper in the act. Another captured teens who officials say painted graffiti in a vacant lot in Tacony.

Action News spent weeks with city crews tracking the ways they are taking on trash. We followed one of several crews who tracks the trash accumulating in some of the city's 39-thousand vacant lots. "This lot right here is just trash. Crew will have to come out here just rake the trash. Bag it up and get it out of here," said Maurice Fluellen with Vacant Lot Program.

The owner has ten days to clean up the property. If not, a vacant lot crew like this one moves in. Then, the owner gets the bill.

"That I um would assume it looked like four parcels so I would say about 12-hundred dollars," added Conway.

Litter is Wanda Jones' beat. She spends her days patrolling the entire city with the Department of Streets in search of homes and businesses breaking the refuse rules.

"This place right here, that is definitely a litter condition," said Jones.

She cited this business for putting out the garbage a day too late. Another citation went to a business with garbage piling up out front. A citation can cost $25 to $75 per offense.

"Some people are really happy to see us coming because not everyone likes to live with litter on the streets," added Jones.

No one wants litter on their streets. And the recent city clean up proved that. Thousands turned out in April for a one day citywide cleanup, but Mayor Nutter said an even cleaner city will take an every day effort.

"So I think we can be successful and we've seen some success. It needs to be continuous. It needs to be daily, weekly, monthly and then of course yearly in our efforts to make Philadelphia a better, cleaner place."

Here's how you can help clean up the city:

First if you have a vacant lot that needs to be cleaned up on your block you can call the City of Philadelphia's 311 hotline with all the information. Also, if you recognize the man OR the teens in the above photos, call the police Neighborhood Services Unit at 215-685-9500

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