Mayor Roxanne Qualls

Public Education and Awareness Programs Are Important Components of Comprehensive "Zero Tolerance Initiative"

"Litter, graffiti, abandoned buildings and vacant lots are breeding grounds for crime. Crack houses take hold on streets and in neighborhoods when long-standing building and health code violations have not been addressed. I am announcing today the Zero Tolerance Initiative. It gives City administrators, neighborhood leaders and residents the tools they need to take back our neighborhoods."

--Excerpt from Mayor Roxanne Qualls' 1994 Zero Tolerance Initiative announcement Zero Tolerance: Phase One (1994-1996)

During the Mayor's first 16 months in office, many of the 2,000 constituency cases handled by her staff involved poor conditions in and around buildings, trash and weed-filled vacant lots, junk cars, and graffiti. Believing that blight in neighborhoods degrades a community, invites crime, and discourages economic development, Mayor Qualls initiated a program that coordinates City departments and neighborhood organizations to respond to these pressing problems. City departments, including Buildings and Inspections, the Police Division, Public Works, the Health Department, and Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, work together and with community groups to identify problems in each neighborhood and find solutions.

Several major proposals were adopted as part of the first phase of the Zero Tolerance Initiative, including the establishment of the Office of Administrative Hearing and administrative citation process. As a result, many building, litter, and weed violations were moved out of the criminal courts and into a civil arena, where violators could be fined quickly if they failed to comply. Up to that time, violators were required to proceed through a lengthy court process that often took years before penalties were imposed. Since implementing the new procedure, 1,667 property owners have been fined for a variety of conditions, including: abandoned refrigerators, improper trash containers, overgrown weeds, and accumulated litter. The Department of Buildings and Inspections reports that private owners' compliance has improved, as has the morale of building inspectors.

Other initiatives included in Phase One were the creation of a Graffiti Prevention and Abatement program and the expanded enforcement of junk car ordinances, including a new protocol for removing derelict and abandoned vehicles. While these actions made a difference in Cincinnati's neighborhoods, more action was needed. Although the Division of Sanitation was spending more than $2 million a year to remove litter from streets, vacant lots, and illegal dump sites, litter was still high on the list of citizen complaints.

Zero Tolerance: Phase Two (1997-present)

Phase Two was launched to further address the five issues named in Phase One as major barriers to City livability: dilapidated buildings and vacant lots, crack houses, litter, junk vehicles and front yard parking, and graffiti. Three initiatives directly related to litter are highlighted below.

(A) Coordinate the reporting of litter violations in one department

Prior to Zero Tolerance, three different City departments handled litter complaints, the Health Department, Buildings and Inspections, and Public Works. In 1996, the City received 7,738 litter, trash, and weed complaints, 1,900 by Public Works, and the remaining 5,838 by the Health Department. In order to make it easier for citizens to make litter complaints, the Health Department became the primary department responsible for such matters.

Furthermore, it was decided that the Litter Patrol, disbanded in 1992, be reestablished to its original status. It was reestablished at a cost of $200,000 to provide 24-hour enforcement capability for trash, litter, and illegal dumping on public and private property.

(B) Launch a program to address improper garbage setout

A windshield survey conducted by Keep Cincinnati Beautiful indicated that improperly covered trash receptacles were a leading cause of litter in some neighborhoods. The survey also indicated that litter and improper set-out were less frequent in neighborhoods with high homeownership rates.

In order to address this issue, the City contracted with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, a local nonprofit organization affiliated with Keep America Beautiful, to develop a targeted educational program. With in-kind support from Procter & Gamble, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful conducted focus groups in order to design the educational component and target the message. Focus groups revealed that in apartment complexes with five or more units, residents felt the responsibility for proper trash set-out belonged to the landlords, whereas the landlord thought it was the renters' responsibility. Since over 60% of Cincinnati residences are occupied by renters, these findings were particularly significant.


(1) In 1998, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful contacted 10,000 property owners of apartment buildings with 5 or more units. A letter from the Mayor and the City Manager included information regarding ordinances that require lids on garbage cans. They also received a brochure called "Tenant Trash Tips" to help educate tenants about proper garbage setout.

(2) At the same time, City Council passed an aggressive ordinance requiring lids on garbage cans. In response to a request by the Cincinnati Real Estate Investment Association (REIA), Mayor Qualls formed an ad-hoc committee to recommend fair enforcement protocol. It was decided that one warning be given to property owners before a ticket is issued. Keep Cincinnati Beautiful continues to educate property owners and their residents about the City's policy.

(3) In the summer of 1998, the Sanitation Division and Keep Cincinnati Beautiful distributed 1,000 90-gallon carts with lids to residents in a targeted neighborhood as a pilot project. The carts were distributed free to residents in the test area. The cost to the City was $49,000.

(4) In the summer of 1999, a second, more targeted letter was sent to 12,000 property owners in areas where litter and rat complaints were reported to the Health Department, reminding them to place garbage in lidded containers. A $40 rebate coupon for a $99, 90-gallon garbage cart was sent to each property owner with a copy of the "Tenant Trash Tips" brochure. The rebate was made possible with a grant from the City that was matched by the cart distributor.

(5) Several press conferences were held to encourage residents to "Lid It!"

Results of the "Lid It!" campaign

The Division of Sanitation measured results using a windshield survey and videotaping conditions in the targeted neighborhood before and after the campaign. Both efforts showed a significant decrease in litter. Furthermore, according to the photometric index used by Keep Cincinnati Beautiful in July 1999, the prevalence of litter decreased in all land use categories measured.

A random survey to 100 homes in the pilot area found:

  • 70% of the residents rated the cans as excellent,

  • 23% of the residents rates the cans as very good, and

  • 7% of the residents rated the cans as good.

Furthermore, 99% of the residents reported less litter in their neighborhood, and 95% said they would purchase the cans.

Keep Cincinnati Beautiful leveraged the City's $50,000 grant with an additional $30,000 of private sector support. From July through September 1999, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful has sold more than 1,000 garbage cans to property owners. As of October 1999, the City is considering an additional $50,000 grant to offer the "Lid It!" rebate program to property owners citywide.

(C) Launch advertising program called "Don't Trash the 'Nati" targeting 15-17 year-olds.

As a result of receiving so many complaints about roadside litter, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful launched a public awareness campaign to encourage the public to properly dispose of their trash.

Based upon research conducted by Syrek Associated for Keep Texas Beautiful, where it was reported that 71% of the litter along streets and highways is generated by males between the ages of 15 and 34, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful decided to target their campaign at the same demographic group.

With in-kind support from Procter & Gamble, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful conducted focus groups and determined that littering was an accepted behavior among this age group, with the attitude that "someone else will pick it up." Focus groups were also used to choose a creative advertising theme. They overwhelmingly chose "Don't Trash the 'Nati…Keep Cincinnati Beautiful." Outdoor billboards, bus billboards, and radio advertisements using "real" people were used to convey the message.


(1) Since March 1998, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful raised approximately $107,000 in cash contributions for the media campaign. An additional $200,000 in matching funds from the private sector and state grants were also raised, for a total expenditure of $300,000 for radio and outdoor advertising.

(2) By the end of the summer of 1998, the slogan had caught on with the target group. Keep Cincinnati Beautiful distributed thousands of t-shirts, baseball caps, and bumper stickers. They also used banners at large outdoor events and flew an airplane banner over "Riverfest," an event that draws 500,000 people. Local soft drink companies provided additional radio advertising by using the slogan at their events.

(3) Using a grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful's education department designed a "Don't Trash the 'Nati…Keep Cincinnati Beautiful" litter prevention curriculum that included a professionally produced video. The program has been distributed to all Cincinnati public, private, and parochial schools.

(4) Using footage from the education video, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful produced a public service announcement for television. All stations in Greater Cincinnati have copies of the PSA.


Keep Cincinnati Beautiful leveraged five dollars in community benefits for every one dollar invested in the program. As mentioned above, the photometric index showed a decrease in litter citywide in all land uses measured. The campaign has become so successful that Keep Cincinnati Beautiful has raised an additional $200,000 from the private sector and through state grants in order to continue the radio and outdoor advertising campaigns.

Public response to the Mayor's office, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, and the Division of Sanitation has been overwhelmingly positive. The broadcast media has been very supportive of the effort, lending an additional 28 million television impressions from June through August 1999 in addition to the millions generated through paid advertising.

For more information, please contact:

Keep Cincinnati Beautiful
216 E. Ninth Street, Suite 500
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202-2121
Phone: (513) 352-3711
Fax: (513) 352-3714

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