Mayor Richard M. Daley

Chicago Cracks Down on Illegal Dumpers

Illegal dumping is a common occurrence in many big cities, and Chicago is no exception. As many local governments know, cleaning up after illegal dumpers requires an extraordinary amount of resources. Chicago's annual cost for cleaning up after dumpers reached a peak of $14.6 million in 1995, but has been decreasing annually. In 1998, this amount decreased to under $8 million because the City implemented a multi-faceted program incorporating strict laws, enforcement, cleanup, and public outreach to identify and punish illegal dumpers. Chicago's tough enforcement program helps to improve the urban environment, decrease the amount of money spent by the City on cleanup, and reduce other types of illegal activity.

Unfortunately, illegal dumping is often viewed by public officials and judges as a victimless crime. The City of Chicago, however, believes that its residents and businesses are the victims. Illegal dump sites are not only a public nuisance, but they also pose health risks from rats, mosquitoes, noxious fumes, and potentially hazardous and flammable materials. In addition, violators who illegally dump materials are often armed and wanted for other criminal violations, further putting communities at risk. The City of Chicago believes that every neighborhood bearing this burden can suffer from reduced property values and a perception that it's a dangerous, blighted environment in which to live.

Mayor Daley is committed to enhancing the quality of life for Chicago residents and reducing costs for cleanup of illegal dumping. Therefore, he determined to put an end to illegal dumping and Chicago has taken the following steps to implement its successful enforcement program. In 1995, a pilot program was conducted. Based on its initial results, in 1996 the City provided $100,000 in funding for additional staff to develop and implement a comprehensive illegal dumping program involving coordination among several departments. Through regular meetings and targeting of specified sites, the Departments of Environment, Streets and Sanitation, Police and Law partner together to prevent illegal dumping. The agencies work together to strengthen and enforce the laws as well as clean up dump sites.

Stricter Laws

Increasing the costs to dumpers was an important step in the City's comprehensive program because dumpers attempt to avoid paying disposal fees. In 1996, the Chicago City Council passed stricter Municipal Codes for illegal dumping, including the following Municipal Code provisions:

  • Fines between $1,000 and $2,000 for the first offense

  • Offenses are subject to jail time of up to 6 months and community service up to 200 hours

  • Impoundment of vehicles incurring charges up to $2,000

  • $100 reward for citizen information leading to conviction

  • Convictions can lead to loss of City contracts and business licenses

Higher fines serve as deterrents for illegal activity; however, if courts do not impose the minimum fines, the effectiveness of the law is diminished. The City faces difficulty in punishing offenders because judges often do not have a clear understanding of this crime and rarely impose even the minimum fines. The City has transferred most of its cases to an administrative hearings procedure where Administrative Law Officers typically impose the fines as stated in the Municipal Code. The Department of Administrative Hearings originated as an initiative from Mayor Daley in 1995. He appointed a special commission to examine and study the potential for an administrative hearings department. In 1997, the City was prompted to implement this department to hear most of its illegal dumping and other environmental code violation cases. This department increases compliance with Chicago's Municipal Code, reduce congestion in the Cook County Circuit Court, expedite municipal prosecutions, reduce litigation costs and free code enforcement officers from presence in court.

Additionally, the Department of Environment (DOE) is working to expand judicial awareness of the issue by holding an environmental training program for judges. The City is currently meeting with various legal organizations, such as the Chicago Bar Association and the Cook County States Attorney Law Department to obtain their input on an appropriate curriculum for the training program. Chicago tentatively plans to develop a four-part series focusing on environmental laws, implementation of environmental regulations, enforcement for environmental crimes, and environmental technology. This training program will be taught by professionals in the field of environmental law and enforcement.


The Departments of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) and Environment are responsible for enforcing the strict laws passed by City Council in 1996. DOE created a full-time Enforcement Unit, with a team of four investigators and a public outreach coordinator, devoted to working with neighborhoods to identify illegal dumpers and impose enforcement measures. DOE's investigators respond to citizen complaints, conduct surveillance on high-incident sites, and coordinate with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) in making arrests. The Streets and Sanitation Ward Superintendents, Refuse Collection Coordinators and Code Enforcement Task Force members catch fly dumpers and issue violation notices to property owners who do not maintain their property.

DOE and DSS provide a comprehensive, targeted approach to apprehend violators and eradicate illegal dumping. Major elements of the program include:

Targeting Sites

The Enforcement Unit selects a focus area. Sites are selected based on complaints, investigator/inspector observations, City cleanup history based on DSS data, and current dumping activity.

Setting up surveillance

Surveillance cameras are placed at the location or personnel inspect the area to establish a pattern. For example, cameras and personnel were used to catch a repeat dumper and the dumpers, truck owner and the contractor were cited as a result of this surveillance. The contractor was working in a nearby suburb but chose a Chicago street to dump the waste generated from his project. Multiple-day, 24-hour surveillance continues on the selected site.

Involving the Police

The District Commander is informed of the planned surveillance and DOE is provided with police back-up and quick responses to the scene.

Catching the dumpers

Dumpers are arrested, their vehicles are impounded, and maximum fines are pursued through administrative hearings. If a witness provides information to convict a dumper, they are rewarded with $100.

Expanding enforcement

The Enforcement Unit conducts a drive through and inspects the surrounding ten-square block area near the surveillance site for the presence of any other environmental problems and takes enforcement action.

"No Dumping" signs are placed on the site and, if applicable, DOE and DSS take action against the property owner to clean and secure the site. For property owners who have been cited and found liable, DSS also erects "shame signs". These signs identify the negligent property owners and inform citizens how to report illegal dumping. For larger sites, the City pursues liens on property to recoup costs for cleanup.

Improving the site

The Department of Streets and Sanitation's Vacant Lot Program provides cleanup throughout the City. Lot cleaning crews are dispatched to clean up after illegal dumpers when citizens, City employees, Aldermen and Ward Superintendents request it. These crews, which include 16 laborers, 14 engineers and 23 trucks clean more than 10,000 sites annually.

Citizens can request a vacant lot cleanup through the City non-emergency telephone number- 311. Sites are secured sites with I-beams and jersey barriers. DSS and DOE cleaned and secured over 200 vacant lots in 1998. DOE Greencorps Program provides community groups with trees, flowers, bulbs and labor to create community gardens on vacant lots, and has restored 90 vacant lots to gardens through this program.

From January 1997 to July 1999, DOE has cited 179 dumpers, collected $998,118 in fines and settlements and filed $7 million in liens. DOE has also required offenders to clean up 710,892 cubic yards of debris. For comparison, prior to the pilot program in 1995, Chicago had only cited a mere 45 dumpers from 1992-1994. After the pilot was implemented, 135 dumpers were cited in 1995-1996, thereby prompting the City to keep moving forward in expanding its enforcement program against illegal dumping.

Railroad Corridors

The Departments of Streets and Sanitation and Environment also coordinate on Mayor Daley's Railroad Corridor Initiative. The purpose of the program is to foster cooperation between City officials and railroad representatives on issues involving illegal dumping on railroad property. DOE and DSS notify railroads that have illegal dumping on their property and require them to clean it and secure the area to prevent further dumping. The City also provides assistance to railroads in catching dumpers.

Public Outreach

In addition to investigative and surveillance activities, DOE has developed a comprehensive public outreach campaign to raise citizen awareness of illegal dumping and the process for reporting it. This program is funded by U.S. EPA Region 5. DOE has a 24-hour complaint line to report dumping incidents and also has an electronic complaint form on its Web site. Since 1997, DOE has responded to over 773 complaints of dumping. This outreach campaign includes:

  • Brochures, cards, and flyers in English, Spanish and Polish are distributed through Aldermanic offices, community policing meetings, CPD neighborhood relations offices, City service facilities, and community organizations.

  • A public education video was distributed to CPD neighborhood relations offices and community organizations.

  • Public service advertisements run bi-annually in 20 local newspapers.

  • Billboards are displayed in selected high dumping incident areas.

  • Event-specific materials are developed for City events such as the Taste of Chicago and Senior Citizen Picnics.

  • Articles for publications such as the Illinois Attorney General's Environmental Crime Investigators Network, Keep America Beautiful and local newspapers.

  • Representatives from DOE and EPA give presentations regularly at community policing meetings and superblock meetings.

The Department of Streets and Sanitation involves community groups and citizens in its bi-annual Clean and Green Program. Each year approximately 2,500 community organizations participate in cleaning their neighborhoods. DSS supplies these groups with equipment such as rakes, brooms, garbage cans and paint to clean vacant lots and paint light poles.

DOE is developing information specifically for contractors who operate in Chicago. This booklet will outline the Chicago Municipal Code sections that regulate their construction and demolition activities.

Data Management and Tracking

Tracking enforcement activities is important for measuring the success of programs to eradicate dumping. The Department of Environment uses a GIS (Geographic Information System) to assist in targeting limited resources effectively. GIS provides DOE with the ability to track and analyze enforcement, cleanup, and complaint activities. GIS analysis allows DOE to target problem areas and plan enforcement and outreach activities there. The system also provides DOE with the potential to conduct various types of crime analysis and provide information to other cities facing similar problems with illegal dumping.

The Department of Streets and Sanitation also tracks requests for vacant lot cleaning and costs to the City for cleanup. DSS tracking provides efficient response to requests as well as financial information about the costs to the City for cleanup.

For more information, please contact:

Alexandra Holt, Deputy Commissioner
Carmen Driver, Coordinator of Special Projects
City of Chicago, Department of Environment
30 North LaSalle Street, 25th Floor
Chicago, IL 60602-2575
Phone: (312) 744-7606
Fax: (312) 744-6451

Andrea Gibson, Assistant to the Commissioner
City of Chicago, Department of Streets and Sanitation
121 N. LaSalle, Room 704
Chicago, IL 60602-2575
Phone: (312) 744-4586
Fax: (312) 744-7915

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