KINGSPORT — Smokers in the Model City beware. If you toss a cigarette butt on the sidewalk or out the window of your vehicle, you may find yourself facing a $200 fine.
Last month the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a resolution calling for a Zero Tolerance for Litter Campaign within the city of Kingsport. The measure basically calls for the police department to step up its enforcement efforts regarding littering.
Mayor Dennis Phillips, who pushed this issue forward, said he did so because he was tired of hearing people say how “dirty and nasty” the city of Kingsport is.
“People are saying you can always tell when you get to Kingsport because of the amount of litter along the side of the road. I think it is time for that to stop,” Phillips said.
The resolution did not create any new fines or laws, rather two laws already exist to handle littering within the city. State law calls for a $200 first-offense fine and a $500 second-offense fine for those who litter in public places, while city code provides for a $50 fine for those who litter or keep trash on private property.
“All we’re asking is that the police put an emphasis on littering and don’t turn their head if they see someone littering,” Phillips said. “We’re only asking them to enforce what’s already on the books and bring more attention to it.”
Phillips said the BMA wants to make litter the hot topic for a while to see if the city can get people in the habit of putting litter in the proper containers. Phillips said the police will be placing an emphasis on trash flying out of the backs of pickup trucks and people throwing cigarette butts on the sidewalks and the streets.
If someone throws a cigarette butt out the window of a vehicle, Phillips said he wants them ticketed.
“Yes I do. The rules are made for everyone, and there shouldn’t be selective enforcement,” Phillips said. “I don’t expect them to pull over a car on the way to a robbery. I expect them to use common sense and discretion.”
Although littering has been against the law for years, police department officials say it is rarely prosecuted, and only when the violation is flagrant or obvious.
John Blessing, code enforcement officer for the city, said in the past no active steps were taken to arrest people who litter, unless the infraction was obvious.
“I’ve seen maybe one or two people charged with littering since I’ve been a cop for 20 years,” Blessing said. “If it’s obvious and right in front of you, you enforce it. But they don’t go out and hunt it.”
Deputy Chief David Quillin also said patrol officers normally do not pull people over for littering, but he said as part of this new zero tolerance campaign a department-wide directive has been sent out to step up the enforcement of littering.
“In the past that is something we typically have not addressed, mainly because of the workload we have. There’s a lot of smokers out there, and a lot of them are throwing their cigarette butts out the window. We probably wouldn’t get anything else done,” Quillin said. “It is a violation, and it is an issue that has been raised. There are numerous people in the community ... this is a concern for them. We try to be receptive to those things that are brought to our attention, so we’re going to address it.”
Quillin said patrol officers have been instructed to be more observant of people littering, of trash blowing out the back of pickup trucks, and of people throwing cigarette butts out the window or on the sidewalk.
However, the police department will not be assigning a specific officer to deal with littering, rather it would be done by all officers in the spectrum of their overall duties while driving down the road.
“It is littering and is something that is a law on the books. As part of this zero tolerance, it’s an effort to make this a cleaner city, a more desirable place for people to live and visitors to pass through,” Quillin said.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office for years has utilized inmates to pick up trash along the sides of the road, going so far as calling them the “Dirty Street Fighters.” This litter crew operates under the Litter Grant Program, approved by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1981 to help the state rid itself of litter on Tennessee roads.
Quillin said Kingsport has used inmates from the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office in the past on various projects and may look at using them in the future to pick up trash on the streets of Kingsport.
Phillips said Kingsport has probably not done as good a job as it could of asking the SCSO for the trusties to pick up litter inside the city of Kingsport.
“We need to emphasize that,” Phillips said, adding people may see inmates more often picking up trash within the city. “(Sheriff Wayne Anderson) has agreed to let us use them any time we possibly can. It’s up to us to use them more.”