Last year, having spent $265,000 on picking up and carting away old tires, broken appliances, and busted furniture left in vacant lots and woods, Reading, Pa., Solid Waste and Recycling Program Coordinator Frank Denbowski figured there had to be a better way to identify culprits than conducting 24-hour stakeouts.

So he tried something his police chief recommended: motion-sensitive surveillance cameras.

Seeking a low-maintenance solution, Denbowski installed FlashCAM-880 "vandalism-deterrent" camera systems ( www.qstartech.com) at a dozen locations throughout the 10-acre city, where 82,000 people live. Retailing for about $5,000 each, the solar-powered cameras capture up to 700 high-resolution digital images that he wirelessly downloads to his desktop. The camera allows users to record a 14-second message-such as "Attention, you are being photographed"-while illuminating up to 100 feet around it with a bright flash.

"People are so startled they often look up into the camera to try to find out where it is," Denbowski says, thus providing a clear image of their face for authorities.

Denbowski moves the cameras around to keep potential dumpers off guard. So in addition to providing irrefutable evidence of wrongdoing, he says, his $60,000 investment is "a very effective prevention tool. Word gets around."

To keep defendants from claiming the city hadn't made them aware of disposal options, the city's illegal dumping ordinance includes a "presumption of ownership" clause: If an envelope or correspondence with address information is found in the trash, the city assumes the garbage came from that address. The ordinance also gives Denbowski the power to issue citations.

Even if a community has an ordinance against illegal dumping, Denbowski recommends notifying the state. Some violators may be wanted on other charges, or can be sued in civil court on other charges.

Because residents are a community's best enforcement tool, Denbowski publicizes arrests and convictions by sending press releases to local media. "Residents want clean neighborhoods, so they're becoming more cooperative," says Denbowski's boss, Public Works Director Charles Jones, PE.

In July, Denbowski's crews began collecting up to 12 tires/household for no charge (www.readingpa.gov/documents/2008_tire_collection_brochure.pdf), and "we've seen fewer tires in alleys," he says. That effort, combined with a toll-free, anonymous hotline recently initiated by the county (http://www.co.berks.pa.us/swa/lib/swa/crime_alert_berks_county_flyer.pdf), that rewards callers up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of an illegal dumper, is going a long way toward removing eyesores around one of Pennsylvania's largest cities.

- Stephanie Johnston

Session: Illegal Dumping ­- the Pennsylvania Experience
Frank Denbowski
Solid Waste Coordinator, Reading, Pa.
Charles Jones, PE
Director of Public Works, Reading, Pa.
Sun., Aug. 17, 2008
2-2:50 p.m.