Philly’s dirtiest blocks get surveillance cameras as city steps up fight against illegal dumping

Ontario and C streets is rated a “3” on Philadelphia’s Litter Index. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Ontario and C streets is rated a “3” on Philadelphia’s Litter Index. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

This article originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

Surveillance cameras are coming to Philadelphia neighborhoods as part of a plan to make illegal dumpers pay for their trashy behavior.

The Streets Department has installed 15 cameras on North Philadelphia corridors plagued by  large-scale litterers, who leave construction debris, mattresses, tires and other trash — blocking sidewalks, lowering property values and creating health hazards. By summer, city officials expect to install 35 more cameras on problem corridors citywide. The plan calls for 100 cameras installed per year.

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Those caught on video can face misdemeanor charges, clean-up fees, fines from $500 to $5,000, vehicle seizure, and possible jail time.

“By monitoring the footage on these cameras, we’ll be able to better prosecute and impose fines on the people who repeatedly dump in our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Jim Kenney at a press conference on Tuesday.

Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams said the cameras should be a warning to short dumpers that the city would no longer tolerate their use of public streets as personal dumpsters.

“We spend tens of millions of dollars cleaning up after people,” said Williams. “We need to stop it. We’re going to work hard to catch people. We’re going to make an example out of you.”

The areas that received cameras were identified using the city’s Litter Index, a data map created by the city to quantify — down to a block level — the litter problem facing neighborhoods. Complaints to the city agencies were also considered.

The Index revealed that consistent street sweeping would solve the litter problem in many communities but for those areas disproportionately hit by dumping, such a program wasn’t the answer.

In an op-ed for PlanPhilly, Nic Esposito, director of Kenney’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, wrote that reducing illegal dumping in those hard-hit areas should be prioritized.

“In a city with extremely limited resources, the focus must be on those neighborhoods where litter and short-dumping are worst,” he wrote.

Brenda Kennedy, assistant block captain for the 3600 block of Percy Street in Hunting Park, is excited about the new cameras in her community.

Kennedy’s rowhouse block is tidy and given high marks by the city’s Litter Index but turn a corner onto Venango Street and big black trash bags clutter the sidewalk. It appears bright red on the city’s map to signify heavy dumping.

“If we work together to make sure that those people recycle their stuff … care about the neighborhood they’re in, we can get something done,” Kennedy said.

Illegal dumpers, she said, are “taking the peace of mind of homeowners, and our residents and our children.”

The new cameras come just a few weeks after City Council passed legislation to create litter enforcement corridors that will be heavily policed for dumping with violators subject to higher fines. The law will go into effect on Dec. 28.

Kenney said a pilot street sweeping program in select neighborhoods, also based on the Index, is planned for March.

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