Trash police Heal thyself: Baltimore residents must take personal responsibility for grime.

November 15, 1997

THE DIFFERENCE between some Baltimore neighborhoods only a few streets apart is glaring -- one block tidy and neat, another litter-strewn and grimy. The meticulously groomed Inner Harbor looks like another world compared to filthy alleys just a few miles away.

Street and sanitation workers have been criticized repeatedly for allowing squalid conditions, but city residents must share the blame.

People who carelessly throw litter on the ground, leave plastic bags of garbage out for vermin to rip apart or refuse to clean up after their own pets don't have much pride in their hometown or their neighborhood.

Anti-litter programs involving school chil-dren and neighborhood leaders have helped, but not enough. If the carrot doesn't work, try the stick.

That's why the city's health, public works, housing and police departments combined resources to create a sanitation police force.

The 25 uniformed officers will start with warning notices, but in January will begin issuing citations requiring fines of up to $250 to those who violate laws on the proper disposal of trash and garbage. It's a strong measure aimed at forcing people to accept the personal responsibility needed to keep the city clean.

Public Works Director George G. Balog says the city's old citation system didn't work.

Inspectors issued notices that required property owners to clean up their premises within a certain period of time. Most did what was necessary to avoid prosecution, then allowed the same unsanitary conditions to resume.

Imposing immediate fines every time sanitation laws are violated should lead to fewer people returning to their old, filthy habits.

More than just clean streets is at stake. Modern policing theory subscribes to the "broken windows" notion that criminals feel safer in neighborhoods whose squalor and deterioration may be a sign of residents who don't care.

People who do take pride in where they live will do what it takes to keep their neighborhood clean -- of trash and criminals.

The sanitation police alone cannot solve this problem. Improvements in trash collection and speedier disposal of items left on the street after evictions will be essential to the process. But the trash police presence can do a great deal to help make Baltimore neighborhoods cleaner, healthier and safer -- and keep them that way.

Pub Date: 11/15/97

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