A recent news story covered an ongoing focus of law enforcement in Philadelphia – ticketing people for littering. While the practice has definite benefits like clean streets, there are problems with enforcing the tickets and inherent injustices that will never go away.
Littering Task Force Averages 70,000 Tickets Per Year
According to the expose by Philadelphia's ABC News chapter, the Sanitation Enforcement wing of the Philadelphia Streets Department has issued an astounding 216,000 litter citations over the last three years. Those tickets brought in more than $6 million in fines.
The supervisor, Vincent Mason, has 40 workers patrolling the streets of Philadelphia. While he thinks that's enough, he also says that he could use more.
The Inherent Injustice of Ticketing the Poor
The overwhelmingly vast majority of those 216,000 litter tickets went to people who live in poor neighborhoods. Many of these people have been ticketed for littering because they don't have the trash cans to contain their garbage, once they put it on the curb. For many of these people, they are being ticketed for littering because they live in a bad neighborhood. Many of them have had their trash cans stolen or broken, and have either not had the money or the time to replace them, or have decided not to buy another trash can only to have that one disappear, too.
But now they're being ticketed for littering because they didn't have a trash can.
Most of these littering tickets are around $50. For someone barely getting by, already, it can be a harsh blow.
The Trickle-Down Effect of Littering Tickets Against the Poor
As one would expect, ticketing poor people has some foreseeable results: Many people don't have the money to pay the tickets and have neither the time nor the money to pay to defend against them.
An estimated 40% of the littering tickets go unpaid. A lot of the people who get ticketed simply ignore the fine. When the ticket turns into a court date, most people don't go. Additional penalties accumulate until a lien is placed on their property. While most of the people ticketed rent their homes rather than own them, they do often own a car.
Outstanding tickets for littering can prevent them from re-registering it in Philadelphia. If they choose not to register it, they can get pulled over and their car can get impounded. Impounding fees accumulate, can't be paid, and the car is – for all intents and purposes – lost.
Joseph D. Lento: Criminal Defense in Philadelphia
Many people see the huge number of littering tickets issued in Philadelphia and think that it's nothing but a good thing. The streets are getting cleaned and messy people are getting ticketed for throwing their trash around.
Unfortunately, the truth – and the repercussions of that truth – is far more nuanced. Even those who did leave their trash out can be facing legal problems that they were largely powerless to avoid. Those legal problems can grow exponentially until they are threatening someone's very livelihood.