DNREC's Environmental Crimes Unit is catching illegal trash dumpers through digital technology, adding new, advanced cameras around the state.

Skulking around in the middle of the night trying to dump trash may sound like a good way of saving landfill fees, but those considering the idea might want to think twice.

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is watching you.

And not only does DNREC have an eye on those who illegally dump garbage in the First State, it’s about to get some help.

In August 2009, DNREC’s Environmental Crimes Unit set up 14 digital cameras at known trash dumping sites throughout the state in an effort to try to nab people who feel it’s not worth the trouble or expense of taking items to area landfills.

Now, armed with an $8,400 grant, money gleaned from the state’s confiscated property fund, the ECU will be buying more, even better cameras.

The electronic eyes are a great force multiplier, said William P. McDaniel II, chief of enforcement for the 11-member unit.

“It’s impossible for us to station a person at every site and just sit there and wait for a dumper,” McDaniel said. “These cameras have been a huge help.”

In the first six months of 2010, the ECU has received 299 complaints about illegal dumping; from that they have made 32 arrests.

“When confronted with the pictures, most people enter guilty pleas,” said investigator Capt. James H. Faedtke. “We have a 100% conviction rate. We’re very confident we have the right person.”

McDaniel and Faedtke would not reveal the location of any of the cameras nor describe how they are disguised.

The heat- or motion-activated cameras are checked periodically, especially if a patrolling ECU officer spots newly piled up trash in an area that previously was clean, Faedtke said. If a vehicle license plate number can be seen in the photo, a suspect is identified and arrest warrants issued. The photos also are distributed to other law enforcement agencies in the state in the hopes a police officer will recognize the offending vehicle.

“We’ll put the people up on our website and other people see them,” he said. “That can be a definite deterrent.”

In one notable case from Wilmington, two women were photographed dumping a steel couch frame. Taking that one item to a legal disposal site would have resulted in miniscule landfill charges; instead the women ended up paying more than $1,000 in fines and court costs, McDaniel said.

In another case, a contractor’s driver was ordered to take old roofing material to a landfill; instead he left it on the side of the road. Officers identified the dump truck and showed their incriminating photographs to the man’s boss. The driver kept his job, but he’s paying the fine.

The minimum penalty for a first-time illegal dumping conviction is $500, Faedtke said, more than five times the $80 per ton fee charged at landfills.
Other charges, such as conspiracy and trespassing can be added, he said, and judges often tack on a requirement the offender go back and clean up what he or she left behind.

“They say ignorance of the law is no excuse, but I’ll bet most people know it’s illegal to dump trash on the side of the road.”

McDaniel, who has been an environmental enforcement officer for 36 years, feels it is important that people report illegal dumping so it can be cleaned up quickly — often by the offender, if caught. People don’t just dump household trash, they toss out tires, wood, cement, and even used oil and other hazardous materials.

But because dumping can occur almost anywhere, often outside the view of the camera, the ECU also depends on area residents and eyewitnesses for a lot of the tips they receive.

To report illegal dumping, call 800-662-8802 or, if using Verizon, call #DNR.