D.C.’s Littering Law

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By C.N. Staff Writer

Walking across the District one can witness residents throwing trash on the grounds. In some neighborhoods it appears to be worse than others. Littering happening all across the city. Lenny Walten said he was walking along Pennsylvania Ave. SE by the Harris Teeter grocery store and saw a group of high school girls littering only steps away from a trashcan. He says he approached the girls and said, “I don’t mind picking up your trash and throwing it in this trash can.” He said after that interaction the young girls began cursing at him and mocking him. He said he did not make eye contact with them because he didn’t want to get into a fight. He said he went and picked up the trash “because I wanted them to know that it is wrong and more importantly there was a trash can literally two feet in front of them!”

This year the District expanded its existing littering law. In September police officers began issuing $75 notices of violation (NOV) to pedestrians they see littering in the city. However, the challenge with the law has been that residents can be dishonest about who they are and where they live. Once stopped by an officer, a resident can give a false name and false address and have the ticket sent to a person who was not in violation.

While littering has been illegal in D.C. since 1985, it wasn’t until the Anti-Littering Amendment Act of 2008, that the Metropolitan Police Department and the Department of Public Works was given the authority to issue an NOV for littering of any kind on public space, in waterways, or on someone else’s private property, can give a notice of violation. The person given the NOV is required to provide their accurate name and address to the officer. If that person does not give accurate information, he or she could be arrested and, upon conviction, be fined an additional $100 to $250 by the D.C. Superior Court.

According to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), 91 residents were issued littering tickets issued at the beginning of 2013 and of those 91 only 14 people paid the fines. OAH, which adjudicates the tickets said in 2012 police issued 70 tickets and only six were paid. Police officers say the lack of payment is due to the loophole of the law. Once an officer stops someone to issue them a ticket, prohibit officers from requiring any form of identification — even if officers suspect violators of lying about their identities. “I could stop someone for littering and they could tell me ‘I’m Vincent Gray’ and could give me his home address. Then the mayor could later get a notice,” said Delroy Burton, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Fraternal Order of Police. “And there is nothing I can do to prove that he’s not Vincent Gray. The law is flawed.”

In the annual littering report, police officials wrote, “Without repercussions for an offense, the government’s ability to hold violators accountable for this civil offense is limited and the tickets may not be enough of an incentive to motivate people to change their behavior.” They further stated in the report, “This is important to recognize because the Council used the same enforcement scheme as the model for the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014.”

The low number of littering tickets issued overall — police officers have written a total of 174 since 2011 — is partly because the department debuted the ticketing as a pilot program in only two of the city’s seven police districts. Up until September, police were actively enforcing litter laws in District 4, mostly in Northwest, and District 6, mostly in Southeast, to test how civil violations would be handled in conjunction with OAH. According to OAH the city decided to expand the law because the civil marijuana tickets are using the same process and “Since the ticket books are now in use citywide for marijuana enforcement, it makes sense to expand the littering enforcement,” said an OAH offical.

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