ST. LOUIS – Hiding spots to dump trash are disappearing in St. Louis as more cameras and people are watching. Hundreds of police cameras now watch from above, while a small army of residents works from the ground under a growing incentive program.
The payoff is a steady increase in the number of people charged with illegal dumping.
The St. Louis City Counselor’s Office issued 439 illegal dumping charges in 2020, 650 illegal dumping charges in 2021, and 818 illegal dumping charges in 2022; an 87% increase in two years.
“They always have to look over their shoulder, to see if anybody’s watching them, or to see if a camera’s watching them,” Detective Rick Zurmuehlen, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, said.
Zurmuehlen heads the St. Louis Police Environmental Investigations Unit. He said alleyway cameras are hard to spot and easily moved to throw off the bad guy. Their cases are so solid that Richard Sykora of the city counselor charges about 98% of the trash cases officers file.
“So, we see the stuff that we work on get issued and go to court, and from there on people paying the fines, so you see the whole process through, and that’s what makes it all worth it,” Zurmuehlen said.
“I don’t quite understand why the people dumping think we want to live like this, because we don’t,” Alderwoman Norma J. Walker (Ward 22) said.
Walker met with us behind the now-closed Gundlach school, which she’d like to see cleaned soon.
“There’s people that think anything goes in St. Louis City, and I’m here to say that’s not true,” she said.
Walker said her constituents are also using a program in which you get a $100 reward if a tip leads to a successful prosecution.
“And we have a lot of feisty seniors who come outside and say, ‘uh-uh,’” she said.
Contractor Willie Rance said he often preaches to his own profession.
“I ask them nicely, because you don’t know who’s got a gun or not, but a lot of times when you ask them and they’ll leave,” he said.
“The gig is up. To my fellow brother contractor – stop it. You can’t do it no more. Take the trash where it’s supposed to go.”
Rance believes the tide is changing.
“I think it’s going in our favor because it’s a start,” he said. “All we need is that spark to keep it going.”
According to the city, the Municipal Courts assessed more than $192,000 in fines in 2022 for illegal dumpers, a 137% increase over 2020. More than half of those cited—388 of 678 people—did not have a city address.
Many charged with illegal dumping faced additional charges such as prohibited use of a refuse container, accumulation of rubbish, no commercial container, and unlawful disposal of waste tires. The maximum fine for illegal dumping was increased from $500 to $1,000 following the passage of Prop F during the November 2022 general election.
The current 22nd, 1st, and 4th wards accounted for the most illegal dumping summonses, respectively.
City residents witnessing illegal dumping as it occurs can call the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s non-emergency line at 314-231-1212 and ask for the Trash Task Force to file a report. For debris and other items discovered in the alleys, residents can report to the Citizens Service Bureau at 314-622-4800 or online via the city’s website.