The sight of broken TVs, an old couch, and wooden debris scattered along Adams Avenue in East Camden on Monday morning was familiar for the Rev. William "Jud" Weiksnar. The pastor of St. Anthony of Padua parish has fought the city and Camden County for about seven years to end similar illegal dumping a few blocks away in Von Neida Park.
But instead of his usual rage over the mounds of garbage, Weiksnar had an ear-to-ear smile Monday as he stood behind Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd, who was in the neighborhood to announce a new initiative designed to crack down on illegal dumping in the city.
Eight mobile surveillance cameras — paid for from the sale of property forfeited to police — were installed in February in areas known to be popular dump sites, including the intersection of 28th Street and Adams. Their footage is reviewed daily by authorities and has resulted in charges ranging from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. Half the 20 people charged have been Camden residents, according to police records.
The maximum fine for illegal dumping is $10,000, and offenders the face possible forfeiture of their vehicles and a year in prison, officials said Monday.
"We will no longer tolerate individuals, contractors, or businesses who use our city as their personal dumping site," Redd said.
The problem has plagued Camden for years, chipping away at city funds and manpower.
"Public Works could be doing a lot of good work in the city, but instead we are spending all our energy here," said Pat Keating, director of the department, pointing at the piles of debris on Adams and nearby trash-removal vehicles. "This is my equipment, and it will take us all day to clean it up."
The city pays $64 per ton to send items to a landfill. It cost the city $13,000 to clean up Adams and 28th about a month ago, and "there's 30 other sites just like this," Keating said. In fiscal year 2011, Camden spent $332,000 to remove hundreds of tons of debris.
Weiksnar, whose parish and school are less than a block from Von Neida Park, has been working with several students to address the problem. His new tactic, he said, is working better than his constantly taking pictures of junk he finds in the park — including construction debris and a toilet — and sending them to officials.
"I went from complaining mode to community organizing," he said.
Since the start of the year, church staff and students have met monthly with city and county authorities to discuss ways to discourage people from vandalizing and tossing trash in the park. The students have painted benches and added nets to empty basketball rims, and are planning a large mural.
"It's a park, it's not a dumping site," said 13-year-old Victor Akinlotan, who attended Redd's news conference with several other students from St. Anthony of Padua. "I like to play tag and go on swings. ... Enough is enough."
The mayor and Police Chief Scott Thomson are proponents of using technology to help the cash-strapped city manage crime. While the cameras trained on the dump sites are not now capable of live feeds, Thomson said that would change soon. Through its Eye in the Sky network, the Police Department already has 81 surveillance cameras that are monitored in real time.