It seemed like a simple solution to an obvious problem. Trash was gathering in city streets, so to discourage littering the D.C. Council authorized police to issue tickets to anyone who so much as flicked a cigarette butt.
That was in December 2008.
More than two years since the enabling legislation was passed, police on Sunday will finally begin writing citations to people who think their trash should be someone else’s concern.
“At the end of the day, of course we wanted it to move more quickly than it has, but I’m satisfied this administration has made this a priority,” said D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown of the anti-littering bill he initially introduced in January 2007.
“Residents are tired of all of this litter and trash throughout the city,” said Mr. Brown, a Democrat. “The idea is to increase the quality of life and keep our city clean.”
Previously, only Department of Public Works (DPW) ticket-writers could issue citations for littering — but they rarely did so, Mr. Brown said. One of the difficulties DPW employees encountered when trying to enforce the law was that they didn’t have the authority to demand identification from an individual in order to write a citation.
The 2008 legislation gives Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers and DPW employees authority to require people to identify themselves, and if they refuse to do so the offender can be arrested on the spot.
So why the delay in implementing the law?
It turned out additional legislation was needed to process juveniles who are ticketed, said Sgt. Keith DuBeau of the police department’s Strategic Services Bureau.
Another bill was required to clarify that juvenile confidentiality laws for law enforcement records did not apply to civil violations, such as littering. Without the change, the Office of Administrative Hearings, which oversees the ticketing process rather than the court system, wouldn’t have been able to handle violations involving juveniles without establishing its own confidentiality protocol, Sgt. DuBeau said.
Another portion of the 2008 legislation, which is already in effect citywide, fines drivers $100 for any trash thrown from their vehicle.
But on Sunday MPD officers in the department’s Fourth District will begin to issue warnings to individuals caught littering. Beginning June 1, officers will issue $75 fines.
For now, the enforcement is part of a pilot program in the Fourth District that will run for several months before launching citywide. Sgt. DuBeau said the time is needed to work out any kinks in the hearing process and to gauge the resources needed to handle the new influx of tickets. He estimated that the earliest the
program could begin citywide is mid-fall.
In Ward 4, where the pilot program is kicking off, resident Nancy Roth said she is often dismayed by the number of liquor bottles and snack wrappers she finds lining her street. She said she hopes the police department’s litter enforcement will help curb the amount of trashed carelessly tossed on the ground, but she remains doubtful that writing tickets will prove the best solution to the problem.
“If you’re going to tell people ‘Don’t throw this on the ground,’ you have to give them an alternative,” Ms Roth said. “Can the city be persuaded in this time of budgetary uncertainty to put more trash cans out in the neighborhood and then keep them maintained?”
The ticketing approach, she laments, seems like a minimal solution.
“That’s working person-by-person instead of community-wide. It’s a whole community mindset that has to be attacked from a community level. If this is all they are doing, I guess it’s better than nothing.”