Sheriff Bob Alford has announced that the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office has been awarded a grant for an additional investigator for environmental crimes.
In 2002, the sheriff’s office implemented a solid waste program in response to illegal dumpsites and other environmental concerns for residents living in rural areas of the county. One investigator was assigned to the program, which was made possible through a similar grant, providing a coordinated effort of public and private partnerships between cities and counties through enforcement agencies and political organizational entities in order to reduce littering and illegal dumping.
The addition of a second solid waste investigator will allow better coordination of training and enforcement throughout Johnson County, Alford said.
The solid waste investigators will coordinate efforts among state (Texas Commission for Environment Quality), county and local entities, which will identify and investigate cases of illegal dumping and other environmental issues. Another goal of the program is coordination with TCEQ in establishing a North Texas environmental advisory council. This council will enable investigators from other entities to meet and discuss cases and share resources, in order to help reduce environmental infractions on a regional basis.
Alford said he is hoping to enhance an already established program by hiring the additional investigator.
The focus of the enforcement program in Johnson County identifies illegal dumpsites and responds to calls from residents, law enforcement and other sources in order to investigate reports of illegal dumping, he said, noting that by doing this, assistance will be provided to other entities by investigation of environmental crimes or helping them establish their own programs.
The JCSO investigators use traditional methods of investigation enhanced by modern technology. For example, digital photography and video, including surveillance equipment, properly document illegal dumpsites, Alford said.
There are high expectations that utilizing this careful documentation and technology, along with an already effective signage campaign, will allow JCSO investigators to present compelling evidence, “virtually indisputable,” before the courts during prosecution, Alford said.
JCSO investigators also will make in-house training available to deputies, prosecutors and other officers. This includes participation in regional training to make officers more aware of environmental crimes, thus enabling them to take appropriate action.
“The result is a better environmental solid waste program with depth of enforcement on both a local and regional basis,” Alford said. “Through this effort, we have identified tire dumping as a target area. Tire dumping has proved to be one of the more expensive types of waste, due to strict requirements for tire disposal.”
For the first time, Johnson County established tire disposal sites for a two-week period in 2007 at county precinct facilities.
“This program was a tremendous success and will continue to benefit citizens of our county in 2008, as a proactive approach to reducing the number of tires dumped throughout the county,” Alford said.
An additional goal of the grant program is to find a sponsor to assist in creating a hazardous dump location where Johnson County residents can take materials such as paint, insecticide, fertilizer, anti-freeze, motor oil and other substances for disposal. The focus will be on developing a partnership or potential grant funding to make these sites available.
“The sheriff’s office will continue to educate the public, other governmental agencies and law enforcement through formal and informal interaction,” Alford said. “Because of this effort, we have been tremendously successful in thwarting illegal dumping and other environmental crimes – so successful that it has become necessary to hire another investigator to handle the work load.”
Statistics since the solid waste program’s inception are as follows: During the last quarter of 2002, there were 48 total cases reported involving illegal dumping. During this time, there was little cooperation among agencies and prosecution was virtually non-existent. When the JCSO investigator began working that same year, his role was to search out dumpsites and public nuisances, photograph and document sites. He would then attempt to file cases on the sites. By adding an investigative position, the number of reported cases in 2003 rose to 151.
In 2004, JCSO and the Johnson County Commissioners Court became involved in the Stop Illegal Dumping in Johnson County campaign. The focus was on bringing illegal dumping issues to the public’s attention, including other public officials and news agencies, along with a signage campaign.
“This effort has been very successful, as demonstrated by the steady increase of environmental cases reported,” Alford said. In 2004, there were 258 cases reported; in 2005, 410; in 2006, 634 cases; and through November 2007, 640 cases were reported.
Alford said he appreciates the cooperation his office has received on every level, including the support and prosecution of good cases filed, for the past four years.
“We will continue to serve the people of Johnson County with continued commitment to this vital program,” he said. “We are looking forward to utilizing two investigators to meet growing environmental concerns.”