You Ask: How Do Police Handle Scavenging?

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[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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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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