Roving cameras help Philly crack down on illegal dumping

    City officials estimate that last weekend’s annual Spring Cleanup removed 2,000 tons of trash from Philadelphia’s streets. Now that volunteer festivities are through, city workers are back to the often frustrating job of keeping the streets clean.

    Richie Wade works for the city’s blight surveillance unit. He knows the places in the city where most people never go — dilapidated river banks, out of sight industrial alleys, and streets such as one in Southwest Philly where, once, it was easy to ditch a foot of garbage without fear of being caught.

    “When I first started, trash would be dumped all along here, about 200 yards. People would drive by, see this street would be covered with trash, and think it was acceptable to dump on this street,” said Wade.

    But that all changed, Wade says, when the city installed three hidden cameras on the block, and began mailing offenders $300 tickets. Now — on a street that used to be a rampant symbol of neighborhood blight — the sidewalks are comparatively immaculate.

    “I’ve had people who’ve dumped, seen the camera, and cleaned up what they’ve dumped,” Wade said.

    The city spends about $1.5 million per year cleaning up large-scale dumping. Although officials don’t have precise numbers, they say that the citywide camera program is deterring the practice, thus saving money.

    The problem with this logic though, as Wade and his department know, is that many people just find other places to dump. And so — like a game of cat-and-mouse — they continually have to rotate their 16 cameras.

    “It’s an ongoing process and I think that the cameras will have to constantly be moved location to location,” he said. “Just because they’re not dumping here doesn’t mean they’re not dumping 150 yards away.”

    This theory ended up proving itself all too true. Just two blocks away from the success story, a different dead-end street was littered with more than a dozen tattered trash bags.

    The blight surveillance unit will soon be awarded another 12 cameras though a state grant.

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