Drones Used to Arrest Illegal Dumpers in Houston

One of the problems facing large cities, such as Houston, is illegal dumping.  According to Randy Scales, a lieutenant in Harris County, Texas, there are people dumping trash every day on land or in the waterways, but very few arrests are made. This led to the installation of cameras and the use of drones in various places around the city to help identify and capture illegal dumpers. Scales and his team of investigators depend heavily on the cameras to crack down on the illegal dumping that usually affects the poorest neighborhoods in the city.

After achieving some success with the pilot project, the City Council approved the addition of 22 cameras to expand its coverage. The $600,000 program includes a fleet of drones and several full-time employees. According to the City Council, the project is already paying off. Since its launch in 2016, the program has led to 694 investigations and 386 arrests of illegal dumpers in remote locations across Houston.

The majority of the people charged with illegal dumping are private citizens as well as contractors and businesses looking to skip out on paying disposal fees. Custom designed cameras are used to track the movement of individuals and cars. The cameras are able to automatically zoom in to get a clear view of the offenders’ faces as well as license plate numbers. Drones are deployed to areas that cameras can’t see to gather evidence or to be used after obtaining a search warrant through the District Attorney’s office.

A video is the best form of evidence. The District Attorney’s office only needs video evidence to prosecute offenders. The prosecutors specializing in environmental crimes may charge offenders with anything from a misdemeanor to a felony depending on the type, quality, and weight of the debris. Waste that weighs more than 1000 pounds is likely to lead to felony charges. Toxic chemicals or dumping in waterways can also carry severe charges.

Beyond just being eyesores, the illegal dumping sites are safety hazards and breeding grounds for mosquitoes, bugs, snakes, and other dangerous bugs and animals. With the cameras and drones making it easier to arrest offenders, it is clear that more investments needs to be made to this program to add more locations around the country. This will go a long way in getting rid of illegal dumpsites and generally promoting environmental protection and sustainability.

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