How is Philadelphia's 'trash cam' campaign against illegal dumping going?

Pat Loeb
September 05, 2019 - 4:00 am
Trash piling up on Venango Street in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia officials say they're making progress against illegal dumping with the help of surveillance cameras, but nine months after the cameras were deployed, results are decidedly mixed.

The camera at Ninth and Venango streets, for example, was unveiled with great fanfare at a news conference last December. City officials, including Mayor Jim Kenney and Council President Darrell Clarke, promised to rid the block of trash left by contractors and others unwilling to pay disposal fees for getting rid of it properly.

But on Wednesday, the block was strewn with mattresses, old tires, plastic trash bags and other debris.

"I notice that it hasn't been effective," said Rosa Meeks, who visits daily to take care of her mother, a resident of nearby Percy Street. "Every week, there's always more trash, more trash, more trash and it's a shame because everybody here on this block is mostly seniors, so there's only so much they can do physically and our seniors are getting sick from all the rats and bugs and everything."

The city has had success with some of the 50 cameras deployed so far at a cost of $6,000 each.

Streets Department personnel review the footage and pass along suspected illegal activity to the police department, which has dedicated two officers to environmental crime. District Attorney Larry Krasner is prosecuting the cases as misdemeanors, a step up from the previous summary offense designation. 

Officials say the stepped-up enforcement led to 175 cases being processed in the first five months of 2019, equal to the number for all of 2018.

As of June, 14 cases had been heard, with one truck impounded and 10 defendants sentenced to community service, fines and restitution, including one case involving hazardous waste that brought a fine of more than $10,000.

That is small comfort, though, to residents of Percy Street, who were so hopeful when the camera was installed.

"I really wanted that camera to work but they don't come out and let us know who's who or what's what," said Brenda Kennedy, assistant block captain.


It's not that she thinks it was a bad idea. 

"Yes, we appreciate it but no, it isn't really working," she said. 

Her neighbor Mercedes agrees.

"I don't know what else they have to do to prevent the throwing trash," Mercedes said. 

Their neighbor Allura is not sure anything can be done.

"I feel like there's always going to be trash here because people just come by and dump trash. Even if they don't live around here, they just dump the trash," Allura added. 

Still, city officials are not giving up. 

They plan to deploy 50 more cameras by July.