Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Police Work Often More That Just Cops & Robbers

Often when people think of police officers and their work, they think of uniformed cops arresting armed robbery suspects, gang members or drug dealers. They don't often picture officers arresting people for this. From the story over at the Houston Chronicle:

Undercover police officers followed a tanker truck's path and a thick odor of grease down a northwest Houston road early Sunday morning.

As they neared the end of the road, officers found what they had suspected: the driver of the truck allegedly emptying what appeared to be an oily hazardous substance from the 6,500-gallon tanker truck into a city drainage ditch.

The tanker truck's driver, 54-year-old Lonnie Earl Perkins, is accused of illegally dumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of hazardous waste into storm drains, ditches and retention ponds in northwest Houston and Harris County for New Energy Fuels, a biodiesel company in Waller County.

Perkins was arrested and charged with three felony counts of transporting and disposing of hazardous waste and one count of water pollution. Police suspect the biodiesel company may have been dumping hazardous waste in at least eight other locations in the city and county, as well as Waller County.

Cleanup efforts have cost more than $500,000, and at least one of the sites discovered during the investigation had hazardous material dumped in it so many times, the pond must now be drained.

"This is a significant problem this company has caused," said Officer Stephen Dicker of the Houston Police Department Major Offenders Division's Environmental Investigations Unit. "Taxpayers are taking a hit because of it."

The story details a good bit of the detective work that went into making this case. From the looks of it, Houston PD's environmental cops did a bang up job. But the topic also highlights the numerous expectations the public places on cops to solve problems in their communities.

The cops at your local police department are usually the entity of first resort for all kinds of problems from dealing with the mentally ill, to arbitrating disputes between neighbors to, in this case, illegal dumping. This variety of demands requires that departments seemingly to become a "jack of all trades".

More importantly, it does require that a department to "think outside the box" to solving the problems that their community expects them to. We can't just say "that's not our job" when presented with these unusual problems. If we can't mitigate the problem ourselves, we need to know who to call who can.

How does your agency handle non-traditional demands from your community?

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