- Associated Press - Sunday, June 4, 2017

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Bishop Thomas Wesley Weeks Sr. relocated his church to Wilmington’s Lower Brandywine Village neighborhood about 12 years ago to be an agent of change in an area plagued by poverty and violence.

But as New Destiny Fellowship Church worked to create that change, Weeks found himself discouraged and embarrassed by the amount of trash and debris appearing around the building at 906 16th St.

Piles of construction debris would regularly appear near the church. There was a time someone discarded the remnants of a foreclosed house and there were always mounds of tires greeting worshippers on their way to God’s house.

“Nobody wants to be around when there’s trash,” Weeks said. “You don’t feel at ease and you certainly don’t feel like someone is paying attention. So it’s very discouraging as we’re trying to get people involved.”

Recently, Weeks said he’s noticed a reduction in the amount of trash around the church and the neighborhood. He attributes it to a partnership with Wilmington officials, especially city police Patrolman Nick Kroll, who since December has been stepping up efforts to stop much of the blight he comes across.

Kroll said when he joined the department about four years ago he was all about catching bad guys and dealing with the drugs and guns plaguing some of the city’s neighborhoods. But as time went on, he noticed that the trash, which affects everyone’s quality of life, was not being addressed.

“For me, it was just exhausting to see and frustrating,” said Kroll, assigned to Wilmington’s northeast part of town. “While there are a lot of other things going on in the city, this is important from a quality of life and a financial standpoint.”

“It was just so gross and overdone,” he said.

Kroll partnered with the city’s Department of Public Works in going after people illegally dumping in these communities. This partnership has allowed the city to file criminal charges against many of them.

Before Kroll got involved, illegal dumping usually resulted in a $50 fine - if the perpetrators were caught. The low fine emboldened some to risk getting caught dumping, rather than paying the landfill fee, which can start at $85 per ton for people without a discount disposal fee.

Kroll knows this because of what he was nonchalantly told by people he arrested.

“Probably half of them said, ‘Well everyone else is doing it there,’ ” Kroll said.

“The chances of them getting identified and picked up before we started this investigation was slim to none,” he said. “So you had these contractors rolling the dice and they just back up and unload their trucks.”

Kroll not only brings his investigative skills to these matters, he’s able to file criminal charges that carry stiffer penalties, including having illegal dumpers reimburse what it costs Wilmington to clean up their messes.

During two recent clean-ups on Hay Road, the city collected about 140 tons of trash and debris. That clean-up cost Wilmington about $86,000 to dispose of in the landfill - not including the man hours or the costs of equipment.

So far, Kroll has arrested 20 people and one of the things he found interesting was that 17 don’t live in the city.

“Officer Kroll has tackled an ongoing illegal activity in our city that is traditionally hard to control,” Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki said. “We have to work hard to keep our city clean and beautiful. And as the officer’s outstanding work confirms, the majority of those who dump trash in our city, don’t live in our city.

“We are striving for excellence in public service in Wilmington and Officer Kroll, with the support of staff from city public works department, exemplifies how to get things done effectively,” said Purzycki.

The mayor thanked Kroll “for sending a message to would-be violators that Wilmington is a lot smarter than they are and we’ll arrest and prosecute them if they trash our city.”

Public works officials said they are seeing less littering in some of these areas.

“The kid is just doing a great job with it,” said Marlyn W. Dietz, Wilmington’s public works director of operations.

Dietz said Kroll’s efforts have been contagious.

“At first, the other officers were busting on him, calling him the ‘trash police,’ ” Dietz said. “But once they started seeing that he was making some headway, they started giving him information. So it’s kind of been like a snowball growing.”

Kroll effort started at a time Dietz was trying to get more help in controlling the problem himself. Dietz bought more cameras to catch people dumping trash and enlisted the help of state parks officials to show him how to set up the cameras.

Dietz, a former city police officer with more than 30 years on the force, said he’d like to have Kroll assigned exclusively to this.

“His enthusiasm is energizing to see it because it makes us want to do more now,” he said. “It makes me want to get more cameras. It makes me want to try and get him here on a more permanent basis.”

Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy said the department is committed to working in conjunction with other city departments to help increase the quality of life within of residents.

“Throughout numerous geographical areas of the city, citizens’ complaints have been made known to us in reference to illegal dumping incidents,” Tracy said. “Officer Kroll of our Uniform Services Division has been an integral part of an initiative to investigate and arrest those individuals who use our city as a dumping ground, the vast majority identified thus far don’t even reside in our city.”

Tracy said the department will continue to communicate with Wilmington residents and businesses to address these types of issues, adding that police are a key factor in the city’s revitalization efforts.

“The community is and will continue to be an integral part of our policing initiative success,” he added.

While Weeks has not met Kroll, he had nothing but praise for the officer’s work to improve the community’s quality of life.

“People may not know him personally and pat him on the back, but his work speaks for him,” Weeks said, adding it encourage others to get involved and better care for their community. “That’s what needs to happen throughout the whole city, is that we see police officers take a real interest in the community. It helps fortify where people are at.”

“Once people see they have partners in this, they step up to the plate,” he said. “In a lot of neighborhoods, people are willing to step up to the plate. They just want to see that the city, the police and the other departments want to.”

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Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com

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