City, suburbs install cameras to combat illegal garbage dumping

CHICAGO -- Illegal dumping is such a significant problem in Chicago, the City is deploying more than a dozen cameras to try to catch the devious dumpers in the act.

“They come out at nighttime and dump their garbage here and leave it here and the next day this is what we gotta’ deal with,” Larry Henderson, West Garfield Park resident, said.

Residents of the 4700 block of West Superior showed WGN Investigates scrap metal, siding, insulation, even a toilet that had been illegally dumped on a vacant lot. They’ve called 311 and their alderman repeatedly.

City crews arrived to remove the garbage but within days there’s new dumping.

“We clean it up ourselves sometimes,” Henderson said. “But the more we clean it up, the more they dump and the more rats come around.”

City records show crews have cleared dumped debris from 3,810 lots so far this year. The 24th Ward on the Far West Side received the most attention. Followed by the 34th Ward on the South Side and the 20th Ward nearby. The total cost to taxpayers was $1.1 million.

In south suburban Harvey, officials said they’ve spent more than $2 million this year cleaning up illegally dumped debris.

Debbie Cochran said she’s lost tenants in her building over the mess.

“They say they love the apartment but are not comfortable with the surrounding neighborhood and the garbage," Cochran said.

The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation is now turning to one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s favorite tools to catch those doing the dumping: cameras.

Fifteen mobile cameras activated by motion sensors and capable of taking pictures at night are being deployed.

“Our goal is to get people to understand that with a $3,000 to $5,000 fine, you’re much better of dumping this properly,” Charles Williams, streets and sanitation commissioner, said.

WGN Investigates found the city has only issued two tickets in the nearly two months the cameras have been in use. And the photos associated with those citations don’t actually show anyone dumping debris. The problem is that  cameras weren’t snapping pictures quickly enough.

Even when the city issues a camera ticket, collecting fines can prove challenging. For example, the registration of one vehicle captured on a city camera traces back to a home in the south suburbs. A woman at that house said her cousin, who owns a home improvement business, has been using her address against her wishes for years.

“I’ve written the city and told them and it’s like they never acknowledge it,” Rita Duncan said. She said she has received dozens of tickets and citations sent to her address.

“They keep sending mail here every week. I put it right back here. ‘Return to sender. Does not live here, never lived here,'" she said.

She got her cousin on the phone who insisted his workers must’ve been driving the vehicle at the time of the dumping. He went on to say, “The truck don’t exist no more.”

City records reveal the vehicle has received nearly 50 tickets and warnings for everything from red light running to speeding – lack of registration to fly dumping The total owed to the city was $4,128.

Meanwhile, back on Chicago’s West Side, some residents fed up with fly dumping have set up their own sting operations hoping to catch the dumpers.

“They’ll do it again until we catch one of them,” Henderson said.

This year, the City of Chicago has issued nearly 100 citations for illegal dumping the old fashioned way, by catching dumpers in the act, in person.

As for the camera program, streets and sanitation crews have readjusted the cameras to snap pictures more quickly hoping to more effectively catch illegal dumpers in the act.