© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

St. Louis police issue record number of summonses for illegal dumping, but the problem remains

Garbage scattered all over a vacant yard in St. Louis' Dutchtown neighborhood.
Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
Furniture and other trash are dumped in Dutchtown in 2018. More than half of the people who received court summonses for illegal dumping in 2022 live outside of St. Louis.

Neighborhoods in north St. Louis bear the brunt of illegal dumping in the city, a criminal offense that can pose health risks to residents.

Officials issued a record 678 court summonses for illegal dumping in 2022, according to figures released Wednesday by the city. The charges added up to more than $192,000 in fines, more than double the 2021 total.

Offenders leave a disproportionate amount of trash in majority-Black neighborhoods, some of which have a larger concentration of vacant properties than predominantly white neighborhoods elsewhere in the city.

As measured by criminal summonses, the three areas experiencing the most illegal dumping are the 22nd Ward, 1st Ward and 4th Ward. They are Black-majority wards, including neighborhoods like Wells Goodfellow, the Ville, Kingshighway East and Kingshighway West.

“Who wants to go out of their back door or the lot next door and look at a bunch of garbage and trash? No one wants to look at that,” said Alderwoman Norma Walker, who represents the 22nd Ward. “It does an injustice to people and their mental stability and the way they feel about the neighborhood. So I think it has a drastic effect,” she added.

More than half of the people who received court summonses for illegal dumping in 2022 live outside of St. Louis.

Trash dumped illegally often includes mattresses, commercial waste and potentially hazardous materials like oil and paint. Discarded tires can accumulate water and become breeding grounds for mosquitos. Refuse also attracts rodents.

Police in the city’s Environmental Investigation Unit identify offenders with the help of citizen reports and 255 cameras installed in alleys and vacant lots throughout St. Louis. One officer is assigned to the unit; about 10 other officers join the effort during off-hours, earning overtime pay.

Improperly dumped trash takes many forms.

“It can range from contractors dumping stuff instead of renting their own dumpster to tire shops that pay the disposal fees and properly recycle them,” said Detective Rick Zurmuehlen, of the Environmental Investigation Unit. “It's people from the county that come over and use the city dumpsters for their own trash so they don't have to pay for it. It’s really a wide variety of different forms of dumping.”

After a trial period, officials recently ordered 100 more surveillance cameras, which can all be monitored remotely from one location. Existing cameras have a more limited range, making it harder to identify incidents in progress.

In November 2022, voters approved a measure that increased the maximum fine for illegal dumping in St. Louis from $500 to $1,000. People who dump trash illegally are also subject to 40 hours of community service.

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.