Not littering can keep communities more beautiful, and also it can discourage crime and even avoid tragic consequences, according to Amy Hartline, the executive director of Keep Dalton-Whitfield Beautiful.
"Especially post-[COVID-19], it's [littering] gotten worse, so we're really trying in the county and Dalton police, we're trying to have an impact on mitigating that issue," Hartline said in a phone interview. "Whether it's new residents coming in, old residents that are not being super careful about it or people that are visiting."
Keep Dalton-Whitfield Beautiful hosted a workshop earlier this month to make sure local law enforcement in Northwest Georgia knows how to prosecute litter and illegal trash disposal. The workshop was attended by several members of Dalton law enforcement, a deputy from the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office, the sheriff from Gilmer County, an officer from the Ellijay Police Department and other area government officials.
Penalties for littering can range from $100 to $1,000 in fines and up to 12 months in prison, Hartline said. Typically, for littering from a car or putting up unauthorized yard signs, the fine averages $256, Hartline said, quoting figures from the state of Georgia.
Georgia has a litter act, but it often isn't enforced, she said, and sometimes officers don't write tickets the right way, which makes violations harder to prove in court.
"The laws are there, but the enforcement kinda isn't," Hartline said. "So this is really focused on enforcement. We talked about really how to do it."
Held at the Carter's Lake visitor center, the workshop was presented by Scott Carroll, an instructor certified by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.
The state of Georgia spends millions to clean up roadsides, Hartline said, and lack of care on the roadway led to a recent tragedy. Loudon County, Tennessee, Deputy Sgt. Chris Jenkins was killed in traffic earlier this month trying to clear a ladder from the highway. Hartline said attendees learned how to cite drivers with unsecured loads as well.
Hartline said communities that let litter and other blight build up can signal to criminals it's an area no one cares about — and is a good target for crime. Called the broken window theory, she said, beyond just being an eyesore, litter can lead to more problems for a community.
At a Walmart recently, she said she saw someone drop a cigarette on the ground. Immediately, someone nearby warned them not to litter because they were ticketed for the exact same thing.
"It's good to know the word is getting out," Hartline said with a laugh.
In Dalton, recent administrations have made litter and code enforcement cleanups a priority, according to Bruce Frazier, the communications director for the city of Dalton.
"I'd say that the city of Dalton definitely believes the appearance of our community from our commercial districts to our roads to our neighborhoods is important – it's our chance to make a good first impression on visitors and maybe even more importantly, it's a way to give our residents a sense of pride and home," Frazier said. "We've made keeping our community beautiful a priority. We ask that our residents keep that in mind and do their part to keep the city clean."
Frazier said he spoke to a Dalton Police Department officer who has litter and dumping as one of their primary responsibilities. The officer told him Dalton police mainly use city ordinances rather than state laws to tackle blight, but Frazier said the class is informative and offers "good tools for the toolbelt."
The workshop is held every year or every other year, Frazier said, to brush up, but he doesn't think there's any recent increase in ticketing for blight by Dalton police.
Attempts to reach representatives from the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office were unsuccessful.