Solid Waste Authority Looks Into Litter Officer
Wetzel Countians who choose to litter may be more likely to face consequences if the Solid Waste Authority’s desire for a litter control officer comes to fruition.
The Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority hosted Raleigh County Litter Control Officer Mitchell Barley at its April 11 meeting.
Barley said he had toured a small part of the county that day with WCSWA Executive Director Terri Tyler. “It looks a lot like home, except we don’t have a river in our town,” Barley said.
Barley said he had worked as a litter control officer for three-and-one-half years. He is retired from the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Department with 30 years of service.
Barley said Raleigh County hands litter complaints in two ways. One way is by patrolling the roads and back roads to search for illegal dumps. Barley then searches through the trash to find if he can identify the litterer. “If we find your trash illegally dumped, you will face criminal charges,” he said.
Barley said the severity of the charge or citation is determined on how quickly the litterer “comes clean” about the offense, as well as how willing the litterer is to clean up the mess.
“Generally the mess is a lot harder to cleanup then dump. Bears and possums have their ways with the trash, and then the officers have their way. The mess is a little more scattered. We will reduce a charge on someone if they will cleanup the trash they’ve dumped.”
Barley said while other folks might have dumped their trash into the same pile, “I have no way of distinguishing the pile, so you inherit the whole pile.”
Barley said the other type of litter crime is residential. He noted residents will call and report their neighbors, who might have 30 trash bags they will not remove.
Barley said in this case, the officer will issue a Notice of Violation, which is a contract between the litter control officer and the offender.
“We generally go out and explain to them the situation, share with them the law as far as them being required to have trash service or being able to produce a receipt where they go to the landfill. We inform them that they need to cleanup and how. Generally we give them one week to two weeks.”
Barley shared some examples of cases he has worked on; he noted he has worked with some individuals who have gotten rid of 14,000 pounds of garbage from their home.
“As far as they are continuing to clean up, we will work with them. I’m not interested in writing them a heavy fine. I’m interested in getting the neighborhood and property cleaned up.”
Barley said he will start with a Notice of Violation and give the offender the opportunity to do the right thing.
Barley said the litter laws have changed, and the penalty has increased for a litter citation. The lowest citation results in the offender having to pay $2,300, because a $2,000 civil penalty is attached. The $2,300 then includes a fine and court costs.
Barley noted fellow citizens have a hard time paying the fines. He recollected one occurrence when a young man disposed of a bag of trash along the road.
“He was newly married and had a job. He did a stupid thing. I’m not going to write that guy a $2,300 ticket, because he can’t pay it and will lose his license, and lose his job.”
Barley said he and his fellow officer “use good judgement.”
“I gave him the opportunity to clean up the trash with other trash. He brought in 960 pounds to the landfill that he cleaned up.”
“He cleaned up 960 pounds of trash and got a ticket for no proof of disposal, which will cost about $200. That’s fair. He was going to get a ticket because he threw trash in the woods, but it is as fair a deal as I could work out.”
“We work with folks and tell them we will work with them.” Barley said after giving a Notice of Violation, the officers will return in two weeks. “I need to see tremendous progress, so generally we have good results with that.”
Barley said if an offender does not have a driver’s license, the officer will issue a warrant for his/her arrest.
“The penalty for not paying a citation is loss of driver’s license, so in essence, if I tell you I will write a ticket and you don’t have a driver’s license, there is no incentive to do anything.”
Barley explained generally, in this case, a warrant is issued, and the litter control officer will push for community service. Community service is done through the daily report center, so the offender “will pick up someone else’s trash, if they won’t pick up their own.”
Barley said in Raleigh County, the requirement is that the litter control officer be a certified police officer with at least five years of experience. The officer has to maintain this certification.
Barley said, this way, the litter control officer has access to the sheriff’s office, and can check records.
After recent legislation, the litter control officer can also enforce all litter laws in the code, such as if an offender is littering from a vehicle. A non-certified officer would not be able to issue a traffic stop to cite the offender.
Barley said he wishes he would’ve kept a photo album of “all the trash piles and burn piles that we’ve had people clean up out of yards, where a gazebo or trampoline now sit.”
“It’s neat to see that with a bit of a boot to the tail, people take a little initiative and clean up and change the way they live.”
“Your county is beautiful, but like our county, if you have a litter control officer, he will have plenty of work.”
Barley said the litter control officers work with the county magistrates. “We made an arrangement with magistrate court if someone pleads guilty to a citation, to make sure they have a driver’s license.” Barley said if someone comes to the magistrate office to plead guilty, the magistrates make sure the offender has a driver’s license. “If he or she is not listed as having a driver’s license, sentence them to community service.”
As for being a certified police officer, Barley explained how it lets him have access to resources he wouldn’t have, if he were not certified. For instance, he explained if he finds an EBT receipt in discarded trash, he can ask someone in Charleston to release information to him. “I have tracked several litterers down by EBT cards.”
Barley was asked if he receives less hostility, being a certified officer.
Barley noted the first 30 cases he handled, 22 of those were people he had dealt with as a deputy.
“As a deputy, I was back in their homes again, dealing with them on trash. I had an advantage because they knew me, and knew what I had been as a law enforcement officer.”
Barley said as a former law enforcement officer, he is more tactfully-minded. “It is instinctive for me to approach a house a certain way. I park my vehicle in a certain direction; when I get out of my vehicle, I don’t leave cover and concealment until the last moment. I’m not saying that braggingly, but that is the life for me… It is the blessing and curse of law enforcement.”
New Martinsville City Councilwoman Iris Isaacs asked Barley as to how the funds from the $2,300 citation are distributed. Barley noted $2,000 is the civil penalty; $1,000 of this goes to the solid waste authority, while $1,000 goes to the Department of Environmental Protection for prosecution and cleanup.
Barley noted that, at $2,000, the people will not pay. Barley noted the fine needs to be back to where “you aren’t beating your citizen.”
“Yes, they committed a crime, but sometimes it is just a stupid act.”
Isaacs said it appeared as if Raleigh’s litter control officers were “willing to work with these people, but regardless they will be held accountable.”
“Absolutely,” Barley said. He noted the offenders would be given time to clean up messes; however, the officers had to see regular results.
“Your litter control officer has a good first couple of months plum full,” Barley noted.
He added he would be more than happy to speak with the county officials anytime.
“I hope you all can get a good officer here. It is a very good program.”
It was noted that Barley had written 142 Notices of Violation in 2017; 273 sites were cleared in 2017. Barley noted many of his 2016 Notices of Violation were cleared in 2017.
After Barley’s presentation, the solid waste authority discussed the possibility of a litter control officer. Authority member Allen Rush noted the county needed someone like Barley, who would treat offenders like citizens.