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In the News

RETF cameras catch illegal dumpers in the act

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Using a camera purchased by the Capital Area Council of Government’s Regional Environmental Task Force, Williamson County Deputy Constable Eric Thomas is on the verge of closing four illegal dumpsite cases in two months. He has issued two warrants, made one arrest, and one case is still outstanding.

CAPCOG purchased 10 SpyPoint cameras to assist with illegal dumping surveillance in earlier 2014, and an additional 10 cameras are on order. The current cameras, which have already spent almost 1,000 hours in the field, have helped apprehend illegal dumpers and cleaning up dumpsites.

> Learn more about the RETF.

Because the cameras have worked so well for Thomas, Williamson County Constable Kevin Stofle purchased two additional cameras to assist the deputy’s efforts.

“They have been very effective in showing what was going on at these dumpsites,” Thomas said.

In some cases, the use of surveillance in the area has led the Constable’s office to create deterrents for people using an illegal dumpsite, such as where to post signage or showing how and why people access the site. In other instances, the equipment captured video of non-environmental criminal activity which helped the Williamson County Sheriff’s office make arrests.

One of the most important parts of having access to the cameras is they become a force multiplier, said Sgt. Douglas MacDougall, an investigator for the Travis County Attorney’s office.A SpyPoint camera, which is being used by the RETF to help catch illegal dumpers, is hung in a tree as a demonstration.

Twenty-four hour surveillance on an illegal dumpsite at minimum would require three officers, but it should have six, said MacDougall. That costs law enforcement agencies time and money.  A camera however can drastically decrease the personnel resources and time spent at a scene.

One officer can spend three hours or less getting the information from a camera and reviewing it in a sped up manner, MacDougall said.

“With the case load I carry, I can set it up in the area and come back in a week’s time to check the activity,” Thomas said. He normally replaces batteries and gets the footage at the same time. “It definitely gives us a tool to better utilize our time.”

Being the only person, who works environmental crimes for Williamson County precincts 2 and 3, time is important. Thomas currently has 75 active cases spanning on issues of nuisance to illegal dumping to hazardous waste complaints.

> Help stop illegal dumping by reporting incidents.

MacDougall, who serves a third of Travis County and assists with cases in the nine other CAPCOG counties, visits and works investigations on about 20 illegal dumpsites a week.

“There is not a ton of us that do environmental crime work,” MacDougall said. “But now we have 10 camera systems that are expandable that we can give to people in the 10 counties. It is to their benefit and ultimately to the region’s benefit, because ultimately solid waste dumping affects the whole region and enters the water system.”

RETF members can reserve a camera and schedule a pickup or drop-off time for the equipment.

> Contact Ken May, CAPCOG Regional Services Director.
> Contact Matt Holderread, CAPCOG Solid Waste Program Planner.

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