Oct. 29, 2003 – In their first two weeks on the job, the seven Litter Enforcement Officers working on St. Thomas have begun enforcing laws that have gone ignored for years.
The officers are called LEOs, and they're responsible for monitoring the activities of waste haulers, business owners, motorists and people on foot when it comes to the disposing of trash. And, appropriately, they've been finding that it can be a jungle out there when it comes to enforcing the territory's anti-litter regulations.
While St. Croix and St. John have had LEOs for some time, the first ones for St. Thomas were sworn in on Oct. 20 by Territorial Judge Ive Swan. During the first few hours on the job that day, they issued citations to four truck haulers who did not have tarpaulins covering the trash in their open trucks.
On Tuesday, before starting their regular work day, the LEOs gathered at the Property and Procurement Department headquarters to accept a 1993 Chevy Cavalier donated by Bill Creque of Community Motors to support their patrol efforts.
The LEOs are waiting to for the arrival of two new four-wheel-drive vehicles that have been ordered off-island for them. Meantime, the donated vehicle is clearly marked and has been equipped with a radio and siren.
The government had only to invest $22 for a brake lining to get the car ready for service, Darryl Lewis, Property and Procurement program administrator, said. The modification work was done by the Public Works Department with donations from local businesses — Smooth Kreationz, Caribbean Auto Mart, Western Auto and Bronx Communications.
Lewis said the LEOs will assist him with the ongoing program to remove abandoned and derelict vehicles from St. Thomas streets. That will make his job a lot easier, he said.
Ready to begin their day's work, litter enforcement officers Roy Estrill and Moise Bernard got into a dark green Jeep borrowed from Public Works and began their tour of public trash bin sites in the northwestern area of St. Thomas. Their first stop was at a bin in Upper Lindbergh Bay, where rusted stoves, broken refrigerators and large television sets sat discarded behind the bin, with trash flowing down into a deep gut on the side of the hill.
Signs will be posted to warn against littering, the officers said, but ultimately they will set up stakeouts to witness violators dumping inappropriate items in and around the bins. Estrill said they expect to have Polaroid cameras by the end of this week to document the illegal acts and their perpetrators.
On this particular day, the officers made note of several large, black garbage bags that they thought might contain trash from a business illegally dumping into the bin, which is for public residential users only.
Estrill drove on to Union Hill, where the officers discovered loose grass dumped into the trash bin there. Bernard was suspicious of a freshly cut yard just across the street. This dump site also had old, torn furniture, refrigerators and stoves in abundance.
The two LEOs continued up Crown Mountain Road and into the North Side, where they discovered many violations including abandoned car batteries, cut trees, more grass and a decapitated, decaying animal carcass that appeared to be of a goat.
Of the seven public dump sites Bernard and Estrill visited on Tuesday morning, only one did not have any evident litter violations.
At one of the North Side sites, they came upon a woman with a truck filled with grass, trees and twigs. She said she did not know it was illegal to dump natural waste. The LEO's opted to give her a warning, and not a citation.
They also issued a warning to a business owner in downtown Charlotte Amalie who had trash scattered in the back of the place of business. Estrill said he would give the business owner two weeks in which to dispose of the trash properly; and if that doesn't happen, he said, he will issue a citation.
The minimum penalties for littering in the territory are fines of $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense, and $500 for the third. The maximum penalty is a $1,000 fine — which has yet to be imposed on anybody on St. Thomas, according to Cordell Jacobs, executive director of the district Anti-Litter and Beautification Commission.
A person receiving a citation can choose to pay the fine or argue the case in Territorial Court. Estrill said an arrest warrant will be issued for anyone who fails to appear for their scheduled court date, and the person could end up in jail for up to 60 days. Violators will not get away with ignoring the fines, he said.
The "only way people would listen is if you hurt them in their pocket," Bernard said.
The St. Thomas LEOs began their training last April and will continue to receive training once a month, Estrill said. One of the things they will be learning soon is how to work with hazardous waste, he said.
Funding for the program was provided by a $296,000 grant from the Anti-Litter and Beautification Commission of the St. Thomas-St. John district. "We expect their presence on the streets and in communities to make a significant difference in the environment," Edwin Davis, commission chair, said of the LEO's.
Davis also said that a forthcoming public education campaign will be aimed at letting residents know what the law is and "what is expected of them to maintain the environment."
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