D.C. expands its anti-littering program

August 2, 2012

Months after the launch of a program last year that gives D.C. police the power to ticket litterers, officers had handed out fewer than 20 tickets that amounted to a few hundred dollars in fines. This week, the city expanded the effort.

Officers from the city’s 4th Police District — which includes parts of wards 4 and 5 — were given the green light to cite people for littering beginning in June 2011. On Wednesday, the eastern 6th District was added to the pilot program; they can begin ticketing in September.

Citation statistics for 2012 were not available. But by December 2011, according to a police department annual report, officers had issued 12 citations. Two people had paid their $75 fines.

“It’s certainly not a lot,” said Laura Chamberlin, program manager for the environmental education nonprofit group Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Trashfree Potomac Watershed Initiative, an organization that works with the city to enforce littering regulations. But “I would say that it is effective because they have issued tickets.”

The law allows police officers to give offenders a $75 ticket for littering. They can also arrest people who do not give police a real name and address, which can lead to another fine of up to $250. But the officer can also ask someone to pick up the litter; no ticket is issued if the offender complies, according to a police spokeswoman. No arrests have been made.

It is unclear if or when the program — the city’s first broad enforcement of non-traffic civil violations for individuals — would be rolled out citywide, said D.C. police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump.

The department is still studying the process, Crump said, and it is unclear when the study will conclude.

Keith Jones, program coordinator for Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s clean-city initiative, surveys the city’s graffiti and trash and works to educate the public about the laws. He said the most important part of the police department’s anti-littering effort was reinforcing in people’s minds that littering is illegal.

“It’s a small deterrent,” Jones said. “A lot of folks don’t even know they can be fined.”

Chamberlin called littering an “instantaneous” action not always caught by officers, which could partially explain the small citation figures.

The possibility of tickets alone may not be enough to change behavior, according to the police department’s report. Police “warned that there was likely to be a low compliance rate with civil violations for which an individual has no property interest or privilege to protect—such as real property, a professional license, or a driver’s license,” the report states.

Kristopher Baumann, head of the D.C. police union, said the low number of citations reflect a police department stretched for resources. He does not expect the program’s expansion to result in more citations.

“When you go out to the districts, and you have officers trying to do their normal patrol functions and we’re down already, you’re not going to see a lot of this,” Baumann said.

Police officers in Fairfax and Montgomery counties can also ticket people for littering, though officials from both counties said actual ticketing was rare.

“It doesn’t happen a lot,” said officer Janelle Smith, a Montgomery County police spokeswoman.

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