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LAPD joins fight against rubbish

Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief vowed Monday to crack down on those who illegally dump refuse on public streets and alleys in South Los Angeles.

Deputy Chief Kenneth O. Garner, who oversees the department’s South Bureau, said that his officers would be launching a task force later this month with investigators from the city’s Public Works Department. The goal, he said, is to target the area’s worst alleys with surveillance teams, make arrests and impound vehicles used to transport refuse dumped on public property.

Half the city’s illegally dumped rubbish is in South L.A., contributing to decay in neighborhoods that for years have been hit hard by crime and poverty.

In an interview, Garner acknowledged that people have dumped trash in public byways with virtual impunity for far too long. Violators have become so brazen, he said, that they even discard refuse in the middle of the day.

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“Right now, they are not fearful of law enforcement,” Garner said. “It’s time for us to take a strong stand.”

Documenting the problem with videos and photographs, The Times reported in June that refuse -- including dead animals -- festered for weeks in South L.A. alleys and that illegal-dumping arrests by public works investigators had dropped from 359 in 2002 to three by the end of June this year.

The department’s investigators have primary responsibility for policing the city’s 800 miles of alleys.

A review ordered by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in response to The Times’ report concluded that enforcement by the LAPD had also declined in recent years.

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The review, compiled by the Public Works Department, found that an LAPD program in the mid-1990s was successful in curtailing illegal dumping.

But that effort, according to the report, became a “low priority” for the LAPD as it focused on more violent crime.

As a result, public works investigators were left to make misdemeanor arrests and issue administrative citations using state and local codes that prohibit dumping refuse on public property.

“Traditional code enforcement did not make the same impact as LAPD’s aggressive apprehension program,” the report said.

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Public works investigators say their efforts also have been hampered by budget cuts in recent years, which have resulted in less money to pay for surveillance operations.

City Councilwoman Janice Hahn has called for the LAPD to explore ways that it can become more aggressive against illegal dumping.

She said Monday that she welcomed the increased role of the department.

“This is music to my ears,” said Hahn, who represents Watts, where some of the city’s worst dumping occurs.

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“If we make some arrests and set some examples, it will send a message that illegal dumping will not be tolerated,” she said.

Blighted byways, Garner said, need to be cleaned up because they contribute to more serious crimes.

“My hope is to shut down” the dumping locations, he said. “It’s very important to me that we do this.”

Garner said his officers also would be meeting with neighborhood groups to help residents work closely with police and educate them about which agency to call to get alleys and streets cleaned.

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A recent Times review of city records found that residents often waited from two to six weeks to have their alleys cleaned after reporting problems to the city’s 311 nonemergency number.

The Public Works Department said in its report to the mayor that it was working to improve that by installing a tracking system.

Arturo Ybarra, president of the nonprofit Watts/Century Latino Organization, said Monday that community involvement is a key part of fighting illegal dumping.

“We need to develop some specific strategies to organize our neighbors,” he said. “It’s welcome news to hear that the Police Department will be helping us.”

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robert.lopez@latimes.com


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