Building It Better Together: Philly issued 216,000 litter citations over three-year period

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Filthadelphia is a label no city wants.

Sanitation Enforcement Supervisor, Vincent Mason, has worked in the Streets Department for 28 years. His job? Get our streets clean. It's an arduous battle.

"I grew up in the era where Saturday morning we came out, we washed the pavement, we scrubbed the marble steps," said Mason.

He's in charge of enforcing litter, illegal dumping and other trash violations across six districts.

We followed his patrols down South Broad Street. He pointed out a common problem: residents putting out their trash incorrectly.

We hear your Philly issues and we want to build it better together.

Mason said, "In this city, boxes are not to be used as a trash container."

Open boxes attract scavengers which leads to more litter.

After putting on his gear, Mason conducted a quick investigation of the debris we found.

Mason wrote a $50 ticket, saying, "I've already determined that this stuff is coming from right here. There are two apartments above the store."

Over a three-year period ending in the fiscal year 2018, the city issued 216,000 trash and litter citations and collected more than $6 million in fines.

Officers issued the most tickets in low income areas like North Philadelphia, Kensington and parts of South Philadelphia.

Streets Commissioner, Carlton Williams, sat down with Action News.

"We certainly could use additional officers for the area, but I think we have a sufficient number to make a difference," said Williams.

Williams says the city currently has roughly 40 officers patrolling trash. He'd like 60.

But like many experts, he acknowledges, you can't enforce your way out of the litter problem.

"People don't all of a sudden decide to be a litterbug," he says.

And we found serious issues with enforcement, in particular, collecting those fines and penalties.

Records obtained by Action News found 40% of violators don't pay their fines. Most code violations are just $50 bucks. Those cited can do three things: pay it, fight the violation at an administrative hearing or ignore the citation and not pay.

Do the latter and you'll end up in municipal court and face additional penalties.

Still, don't pay, and a lien can be placed on your home or business, but many litter offenders don't own property, so those fines go uncollected.

Officials say one in four people cited will opt to appear before an administrative officer to plead their case and have the violations cleared.

We met Roberta Richardson and Sherri Brown doing just that.

Richardson and Brown told us, "Can't help if I get up in the morning and there is trash in front of the door from wherever. It actually states on here, sidewalk not litter-free."

The neighbors say it wasn't their litter. Sanitation officials say proving who created the eyesore isn't an exact science.

Joseph Costin is the administrator who oversees the hearings.

"I always look at the history of the property. If you come in and you had quite a history we will scrutinize the ticket a little bit more," said Costin.

Costin ruled in favor of these ladies. Their violations were cleared.


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