You Ask: How Do Police Handle Scavenging?

Have a question you need help answering about life in Albany? Email albany@patch.com and we'll see what we can do.

[Editor's Note: The shared some context last week in response to some reader comments on our weekly police bulletin about how the Police Department handles reports of recycling theft.]

Concerning your question about our procedures for addressing recycling theft within Albany: Albany Municipal Code section 15-3 is our anti-scavenger ordinance, and violations may be cited as infractions of the local code. The fine structure is as follows:

  • First violation: $100
  • Second violation (within any twelve month period): $200
  • Third violation (within any twelve month period): $500

Albany Police officers have been instructed to issue warnings and/or citations for these offenses with the following conditions: It is our policy to issue at least one warning prior to issuing a citation, to only cite for offenses committed in the officer’s presence, and when practical, to always offer the option of a private-person-issued citation if needed (this would typically be the person who witnessed the theft and called police).

Coincidental with your inquiry, our local procedures are being reviewed to ensure we are doing everything we can to discourage this behavior, however, the “rules of engagement” concerning police authority in these matters is set by state law. 

In its most basic form, the public offense must have been committed in the officer’s presence. What this means in essence is that the officer should see the offense occur before issuing a citation—simply having a suspicion is not enough.

That would be akin to me issuing you a ticket for speeding because someone tells me you were speeding (but I didn’t actually see you commit the offense). In these cases, if the officer doesn't witness the theft, but you do, you may request the officer assist you in issuing a citation for the theft. This would also apply to private property trespass violations that are often reported in conjunction with recycling theft.

Some residents in our community allow scavengers to remove items from their recycling bins (although this is not allowed under the provisions of the ordinance) further complicating our enforcement effort.

As a result, enforcement of the anti-scavenging ordinance is largely "complaint driven." All of the above conditions result in a lot of warnings for these violations.

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birdie February 01, 2012 at 02:53 PM
This is helpful information. It is especially concerning when these folks enter private property. As a follow-up, I'd love to have a better understanding of the impact of the scavenging on our waste management rates, green goals, etc.
Emilie Raguso February 01, 2012 at 04:53 PM
I actually didn't realize there was an ordinance against this until I was on a ride-along with a very informative officer a few weeks ago. (Story still coming!) Do you think that's common knowledge? I hadn't ever heard about the ordinance before that conversation.
ralph February 01, 2012 at 05:50 PM
The ordinance is narrowly written: "Recyclable material placed at the curbside for collection by an authorized recycling contractor becomes the property of the authorized recycling contractor." If you put your bottles and cans in a bag next to the recycling container, then it would not be a crime for a poor person to pick them up. Steve Jobs picked up bottles, too.
Margaret Tong February 01, 2012 at 06:48 PM
Last month I phoned Waste Management about this very thing. The advice I got was that I ought to call the police if I see someone taking bottles from my recycling bucket. It is theft they said. We now put the bottles at the very bottom of the bucket with the paper recycling on the top. So far, the bottles have not been stolen and nobody has been raking in the bucket.
Moriah February 01, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Incidentally, this morning there were two police cars on our block; they had stopped a scavenger and sent him/her away, but the scavenger had left his/her cart of recyclables, so the policemen were putting our recyclables back into all our bins before they got emptied. It was quite a surprise to hear the usual scavenging sounds, but to look out and see policemen there with all our bins flung open!
Emilie Raguso February 01, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Thanks for sharing that MV! If I were an officer in that situation, I could imagine thinking: "This is not what I signed up for."
Brian Parsley February 01, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Actually AMC 15-3 is very broad. "Approved recycling container shall mean the bucket, bag, box or other container supplied by and/or identified by the City or the Authorized Recycling Contractor or the donor of such recyclable materials as the container into which recyclable materials shall be placed and which shall be located at the curbside." 15-3.2 Ownership of Recyclable Material. Recyclable material placed at the curbside for collection by an authorized recycling contractor becomes the property of the authorized recycling contractor. 15-3.3 Unauthorized Collection Prohibited. No person other than an authorized recycling contractor shall remove recyclable material which has been placed at the curbside. Any and each violation hereof from one (1) or more recycling collection locations shall constitute a separate and distinct offense punishable as provided in this section. 15-3.4 Destroying, Scattering or Collecting Recyclable Material Without the Consent of the Resident of the Premises or the Authorized Recycling Contractor is Prohibited. It shall be unlawful for any person to burn, break, destroy, scatter, scavenge, collect or take any recyclable materials without the consent of the resident of the premises or the authorized recycling contractor.
Brian Parsley February 01, 2012 at 07:32 PM
15-3.5 Approved Recycling Containers - Ownership and Unauthorized Removal. It shall be unlawful for a person other than: a. The resident of the premises or his/her designee; or b. The City; or c. An authorized agent of the City d.The authorized recycling contractor, to remove any approved recycling container from the curbside.
Ross Stapleton-Gray February 01, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Arguably it's great PR. I'm certainly grateful to live in a town where that can be a part of their daily labor, because they're not under siege when on patrol. (But... we suspect that some mail we'd put out in the box the night before--just a thank you card and a KQED raffle response--was stolen, perhaps by the person who's been swiping packages on doorsteps. So there's still crime afoot...)
JJMarieKK February 01, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Last year a scavenger went through our garbage after my daughter threw out a bunch of junk from her room. It was in the middle of the day. I don't know why that day, and our bin, was targeted, but it disturbed me. He left a mess too. We never had anyone go through our garbage that I was aware of before. Usually it is a torn up mess from the racoons that drop by so it is rather gross to dig through. We called the police and they dropped by. I think he received a warning. We are being more careful about shredding now.
Erika Lockhart February 01, 2012 at 11:05 PM
I'm tired of people coming into my driveway to scavenge from my recycle bin. I just contacted Waste Management and asked them to provide the equivalent of bumper stickers, which would probably cost them about 10-25 cents apiece, to post on bins warning in CANTONESE AND MANDARIN that trespassing is illegal. I don't even care so much if they scavenge at the street...it's just not by my head while I'm sleeping or reading. They said it is a civil problem (not, it is a criminal problem of theft and trespassing). Albany Community Development told me that once I put my recyclables or trash out, it was the property of Waste Management, and was still theft, but WM doesn't give a darn. All of them are Asian, all are well dressed, clean, and either do not speak English or pretend not to. You confront them, and they bow, and run away. It's not a high priority police matter, of that I'm sure. However, it is illegal. If the behaviour is illegal, yet unenforceable, should the law just be taken off the books?
Greyson February 02, 2012 at 09:07 PM
I have similar experiences as Ms. Lockhart. The trash cans are not out at the curb. They are clearly on private property in a fenced area. This past weekend I was in the Laundry room of the residential property and I saw a stranger walk into the back yard. When I came out of the laundry room he was going through the trash cans. In the back cars are parked and there are other personal items stored on the private property that belong to tenants. When I tried to tell the gentleman that this was private property to please leave, he looked at me in silence. It occurred to me that most likely he did not understand english. I speak neither cantonese nor mandarin. I decided to physically gesture to him that he must leave the property. He then left. It is a very disconcerting experience to find a perfect stranger in your back yard. We do have some children that play in the back yard at times
Hugo Lockhart February 02, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Thanks for your response, Greyson. It is disturbing. I posted on Facebook regarding this issue and one friend noted that scavengers had gone into a fenced backyard and stolen all the cans and bottles collected by a Boy Scout group for their project. It's not only trespassing, but theft. It is a violation of peace and property rights. I know it seems minor but quality of life is in the small things.
Paul O'Curry February 02, 2012 at 11:49 PM
First of all .... some racism here. Mandarin and Cantonese are primarily written in the same script. I peronally know a Palestinian and a Turkish couple who scavenge in peoples driveways. Also many African American homeless people. Are these people "Asian" . So Erica .. maybe 99% OF YOUR BRAIN IS NOT WORKING !
Hugo Lockhart February 03, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Paul, I just go by what I see in my neighborhood. The surprising thing to me is that the people I see going through the recycling here, are Asian, well dressed, and clean, as I mentioned. It may just be that these are the people who "work" in my neighborhood. They do not appear to be homeless. Believe me, I'm a retired San Francisco Firefighter and EMT, and I know a homeless person when I see one. And my brain works just fine, thank you very much! And, I did learn from other sources that the Mandarin and Cantonese are spoken dialects and that the script is the same. So, based on your comments, we should have signs for our garbage outlining the laws related to trespassing and theft printed in Chinese, Hebrew and Turkish and, perhaps, Ebonics. The point is, the behavior is illegal, whether it is performed by people from New Jersey, Bolivia, Iceland or Bosnia. It is a public nuisance. I would like to engage people in a discussion on how to deal with it rather than resorting to name calling and personal insults.
Hugo Lockhart February 03, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Hugo Lockhart February 03, 2012 at 03:58 AM
Furthermore, I spoke with the "Community Engagement Specialist" for Albany this morning and she said that people with complaints fail to follow through. Even if a police officer does not witness a crime, a citizen can sign a complaint. I can understand that...many people do not want to have contact with the Criminal Justice System. They may be working and fear having to take time off to appear in court, perhaps an exercise many try to avoid because it is similar to the dreaded "jury duty". However, these types of things are the bases of our interaction with the Criminal Justice System, which is very much a part of our citizenship. Don't we all have a duty, a responsibility, to support, to monitor, our system of justice, and get behind our laws? On the other hand, if we really do not care to enforce the laws by participation in the system, perhaps the laws should be stricken. Then there would be nothing to complain about--trespassing and theft would be completely legal, and anyone who complained could simply be dismissed as a nut.
Margaret Tong February 03, 2012 at 03:58 AM
This article appeared in the East Bay Express, June 2010. http://www.eastbayexpress.com/gyrobase/recycling-and-anxiety-in-berkeley/Content?oid=1813895&storyPage=2
Hugo Lockhart February 03, 2012 at 04:12 AM
Execellent article, Margaret! Thank you.
Ross Stapleton-Gray February 03, 2012 at 04:21 AM
New York City set up a system to allow cell phone camera images/video to be easily submitted to the NYPD, and I wonder if that sort of evidence would be enough to permit fining scavengers. Or a widely-known "scavenger hotline" could be used to tip off the police to interdict scavengers more easily. Even a few $100 fines ought to be enough to curb (so to speak) some of this. I've seen two different individuals/teams working Curtis street in the past few months.
Dover February 03, 2012 at 04:37 AM
The people who enter our property to steal from our yard while we are present are Asian. The people who appear on our security camera footage entering our yard when we are away from home are also Asian. I had no idea that paying attention to reality was akin to racism. You learn something new every day! As to the matter in question, and speaking from numerous experiences, I can tell you that what the Chief SAYS and what the patrol officers actually DO are two completely different stories. I actually laughed out loud when I read the statement above. I have begged to sign a citation. I was told that it is not possible to do so. I have made it abundantly clear that I welcome the opportunity to pursue the matter. I have offered up our camera footage and was told that the Officer had "more important" things to deal with. Once while conversing with an Officer in front of my home, I pointed out that the person in question was still present and was now entering the gated yards of my neighbors. I was told to mind my own business. Yes, those were the words he used. Well, excuse me but my neighbors and my neighborhood ARE my business and I have no doubt that my neighbors feel this way about my home and my family. If only the Albany Police felt the same way about the community they claim to serve. I also wish we could stop calling this scavenging. Scavengers perform a useful service by removing and disposing of unwanted remains. These people are thieves, plain and simple.
Kate June 03, 2012 at 06:21 AM
I'm sorry to hear you've had some bad experiences with APD regarding this matter. For what it's worth, the first officer I talked to about this problem was very responsive and would have been happy to help me issue a citation if I had wanted to do so (thankfully just the threat of a citation was enough to keep the Turkish couple off my property). The second officer was a little less concerned about the problem but probably would also have helped. I guess it just depends on the officer. I hope you have better luck in the future and thanks for being vigilant!


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