Photo: Gustavo Garcia. Trash piles up on a Melrose street.

City uses cameras to stop illegal dumping in Hunts Points, Port Morris

Hunts Point and Port Morris are part of a citywide pilot program aimed at curbing illegal dumping, by ticketing violators caught in the act on newly mounted security cameras.

The sanitation department plans to put up 15 cameras in some of the neighborhoods’ most dumped-on locations, though it won’t disclose the sites, in order not to tip off serial dumpers and prompt them to stash their trash elsewhere.

So far, nine of the 15 cameras are operating.

Councilman Rafael Salamanca and sanitation commissioner Jessica Tisch were joined by community members on June 15 as they announced the launch of the pilot program, at the corner of Viele Avenue and Barretto Street in Hunts Point, the only one of the sites the sanitation department has publicly revealed. The busy intersection is favored by commercial vehicles and garbage trucks on their way to the waterfront garbage transfer station next to Barretto Point Park, but the refuse and debris do not always arrive at their destination.

Commissioner Tisch called illegal dumping “a theft of public space and a crime against our communities.”

The industrial parts of Hunts Point and Port Morris are prime destinations for illegal dumping, said Salamanca, adding that “it has been an issue for decades.”

The cameras, which are equipped to rotate 360 degrees and are paired with license plate readers, can be moved between dumping hot spots as needed. In all, the sanitation department plans to install 50 cameras citywide.

Offenders face fines ranging from $4,000 – $18,000, as well as having their vehicle impounded. Both the driver and owner of the vehicle are liable, and, depending on the severity of the offense, the vehicle may be forfeited to the city and auctioned off.

As an incentive, the city is promising individuals up to half the fine or penalty collected, or up to $500 when the dumper is charged with a crime but no fine is collected. 

The cameras are a change in strategy in the city’s battle to curb illegal dumping. Previously, Tisch said, sanitation workers would “show up and do the fleet cleanup of the vacant lots where the dump outs occurred. That strategy did not dissuade anyone.” 

Maria Torres, president at The Point CDC, said she and other Hunts Point residents face the constant frustration of waking up to the sight of trash, rotting fruits and vegetables, and construction debris dumped on their property.

The initiative is funded with $180,000 from last year’s city budget and will run concurrently with another city effort to confront dumping. Mayor Eric Adams announced the earlier initiative on a visit to the South Bronx in June, pointing out that the pandemic made the dumping problem worse than ever. That initiative calls for servicing street trash bins 50,000 times per week, and cleaning illegal dumping sites and vacant lots. It is expected to cost $40 million.

In other efforts to battle trash, the city returned to street sweeping on July 5 for the first time since the pandemic, requiring drivers once again to move their cars to let the mechanical broom sweep by, and will begin using new sidewalk trash containers that do not require trash bags in some locations, in order not to attract rats.

Preliminary data for the camera initiative has so far shown promise, said Tisch, pointing out that summonses have doubled in the first two weeks of the new pilot program, and the number of vehicles impounded has tripled.

The initiatives come at a critical time. According to the New York Post, 311 data shows that the number of outdoor odor complaints has increased 54 percent from last year, setting a new record. 

One Hunts Point resident, Rafael Peña, 51, said the camera initiative is overdue.

“Finally, they are taking action here in the community,” said Peña. “We have been waiting years for elected officials to take legal action so that we have a better, safer, more beautiful community.”