City force will focus on trash Group of 25 officers will issue fines for unsanitary conditions

Citations of $25 to $250

Violations to include littering, high grass, unlicensed vehicles

November 12, 1997|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

In the latest effort to wash away the city's grime and grit, Baltimore has created a new police force that will fine residents or take them to court for minor infractions such as littering and putting out trash too early.

Wearing green and black, the sanitation police have taken to the streets. But the small army of 25 officers has been told to issue no warnings, only fines, to violators, starting Jan. 1.

"We have gone through the process of asking people and begging people not to trash the city, and that hasn't worked, so if you violate the law, we are going to cite you," said Elias Dorsey, the city's deputy health commissioner.

For the next two months, the sanitation police will educate residents about the program. Residents will be asked to not store old unlicensed cars in yards; not clog storm drains with trash; not leave pet droppings unscooped. For each violation, the police force will issue a fine in the range of $25 to $250.

The sanitation police, created by the departments of health, public works, housing and police, was formed, in part, to help stem the city's persistent rat problem.

Dorsey led a team of city officials from the public works, police and housing departments that studied similar sanitation-police programs in New York and Philadelphia.

The department heads concluded that while residents deplore a grimy city, some of them contributed to sanitation problems by not cleaning up after themselves.

"Many view the burden of correcting these conditions as solely the city's responsibility," according to a 200-page report that recommended the creation of the sanitation police force.

Baltimore's sanitation police will be stationed at the city's nine neighborhood service centers.

Other codes to be enforced

In addition to enforcing the sanitation and health codes, the officers will be able to issue citations for violations of building, zoning, fire, food vending, water, sewer and transportation codes.

A violator can pay the fine by mail or dispute it in District Court at 501 E. Fayette St. A violator who fails to do either might face arrest.

City leaders say they are aware that cracking down on violators could antagonize city residents into moving to the suburbs.

"It is not intended to hammer away at people and get a lot of people upset," said Clinton R. Coleman, spokesman for the mayor. "It is intended to give some relief to those neighbors who do the right thing."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has said that ridding the city of grime is one of his major objectives.

George G. Balog, chief of public works, said the city has focused on cleanup programs, buying cleaning equipment and inviting community involvement.

But the violators of sanitation and health rules are hampering the cleanup programs, city officials said.

Residents have been "disregarding the cleaning efforts," Dorsey said. "Crews have come in and cleaned areas, and two hours later, it is trashed."

The sanitation police uniform includes dark green pants, a black sweater and a black tie. Emblazoned on the sleeve of the sweater is a patch that says "Sanitation Enforcement Police."

The officers will walk the streets and issue citations when they see violations.

Some of the specific violations include littering; high grass, trash, debris and weeds on property; unlicensed vehicles; trash placed in plastic bags instead of in cans; rodent-insect infestation; and unsanitary home interiors.

The city has had the violation laws on the books for years.

Technically, the city's 100 or so housing inspectors are supposed to issue citations for infractions.

But problems arising from the city's aging housing stock have swamped the inspectors with work, housing officials said.

The new sanitation police force "goes a long way [toward] freeing up housing inspectors to focus more on what they do best," said housing spokesman Zach Germroth.

At one time, Baltimore had a sanitation police force, but it was disbanded in 1974 because of its high cost.

Officers' duties

The new force will walk the streets and attend community meetings to tell residents to keep their property clean. The officers will respond to calls from the public, accompany public-works cleaning crews to note code infractions, and trail housing inspectors when they make calls.

City officials say the program, started with a $1 million federal grant, eventually will be self-supporting.

The contested violation cases will be heard in housing court, located in the city's District Court. But the aim is to create a separate adjudication board that will deal only with the violations brought by the sanitation police.

Pub Date: 11/12/97

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