Illegal dumping offenders slipping through the cracks, even after they're caught

Posted: 7:01 AM, Mar 30, 2021
Updated: 2021-03-30 23:20:13-04
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MILWAUKEE — *Watch the I-Team's full report on TMJ4 News at 10 p.m.*

During the pandemic, the crime of illegal dumping has grown in the city of Milwaukee, and those responsible are often unpunished.

Last year, an I-Team investigation found most offenders are rarely caught, and when they are, they rarely pay their fines.

In 2019, the Department of Neighborhood Services said it received 266 complaints of illegal dumping, and 21 citations were written.

Last year, they got 411 complaints and issued 24 citations.

The DNS Residential Building Code Enforcement Manager Don Schaewe told the I-Team it's a very difficult crime to prosecute.

"A lot of times, people will get pictures or video of someone, but you can't see your face or it's not clear enough that you really don't get a license plate," Schaewe said.

While working on this report, the I-Team's cameras caught a person who seemed to be illegally dumping on the near north side. The truck was carrying a full payload near 20th Street and Atkinson Avenue. When we came back around the block, that load was in the alley.

We reported that suspected offender to DNS, however, the load was cleaned up before we were able to report it.

Illegal dumping offenders slipping through the cracks, even after they're caught

Schaewe told us most offenders don't travel very far to find a place to illegally dump.

"The illegal dumping cases that we've been able to successfully make, most of them emanate from an area of about a two-block radius," Schaewe said. "So some activity is occurring somebody cleaning out a house or somebody roofing a house nearby."

"(It) doesn't feel good, it's kind of disgusting," said Rick Frisby. "They should just take it to the dump."

Frisby lives near Dr. M.L.K. Drive and Burleigh Street, where we found another dump-site. He says it's frustratingly something they've had to deal with before.

"They've dumped it right in my driveway before," he said.

"We've got a really good neighborhood, my neighbors are all cool and everything," Frisby also said. "They must come from somewhere else and dump it."

Many times, when they are caught, the offenders don't always pay up. In 2019, just one of 15 convicted offenders paid their fines in full, according to municipal court records.

In 2020, two of 27 offenders sentenced to pay a fine, actually paid in full.

"Certainly that frustrates my division and frustrates the court division and should frustrate everybody," said Schaewe. "We issue enforcement and we want those people to be held accountable."

When illegal dumping is not caught, the cost can fall on the property owners, like John and Deatrice Love. They own and manage several properties across the city.

"I hate when people come with tires and stuff and dump them on your property, the building inspector comes and gives you a fine for somebody dumping next to you," Deatrice said.

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The fines are steep if you're caught. Illegal dumping offenders can be fined up to $5,000. But property owners can be fined by the city as well to pay what it costs to remove the debris.

To avoid fines, cleaning up dump-sites as well as other litter and debris on or near their properties has become part of the Love's maintenance routine, same as collecting rent or paying taxes.

"I pick up paper like this every day," John said. "I got a lot of houses. The city don't do it, I gotta do it. Otherwise, I'm the one getting fined."

Some of the offenders who haven't paid may be bankrupt and in the process of paying. But those who ignore the fines could face more serious consequences if they're caught again.

As frustrating as it may be, for those who have to live next to dump sites, they just want a safe and clean neighborhood.

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"Would you please just stop doing it?" Frisby said. "Just take it to the landfill like you're supposed to. Please stop dumping it in our alley. My neighbors are really disappointed."

The I-Team reported the dump sites at Dr. M.L.K. Drive and Burleigh Street, as well as the possible offender at 20th Street and Atkinson Avenue.

The City of Milwaukee offers a possible reward if you help catch an illegal dumping suspect. Also, if you are interested in holding a community cleanup, the city is able to help provide supplies free of charge through a partnership with Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful.

Information about these programs are below:

Report Illegal Dumping over the phone: Call 414-286-CITY (2489)

City of Milwaukee Dumping Reward

City of Milwaukee Report Illegal Dumping Form

Free clean up supplies from Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful

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