Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth has a new kind of deputy on his staff, with a new goal. The environmental crimes investigator is taking a stand on illegal dumping, and he is already making a difference.
Dump sites are littered throughout Pottawatomie County, and the sheriff’s office could not do much to address the problem, until now. Digging through trash is the new normal for Deputy Shaun Copelin, but his treasure hunt is already paying off.
Finding names and addresses among the debris has led to a handful of citations for violators, some of whom have been bringing over trash from Cleveland County. Not everyone faces a fine, though. Copelin has given even more warnings, in hopes that the culprits do not dump again.
“Our goal isn’t to cite people,” he says. “That’s not what this is about. It’s about education and cleaning up these sites.”
Copelin's position was made possible through the Department of Environmental Quality, which is efforting more support to address illegal dumping. The community is already supporting him as well. They have already voluntarily cleaned up a years-old dump site in Dale since his hiring.
“They come out here and they might try to pick it up and the next day there’s more out here,” Copelin says of his neighbors, “so I think people just get discouraged and maybe they felt like there wasn’t a lot of support.”
Dumpers will not be getting away so easily moving forward, though. The DEQ is also paying for new equipment, including cameras that connect directly to Copelin's cell phone.
He says, “In the past we had some problems with game cameras being stolen. These, we’ll have a picture of the person coming up if they do end up taking it, and plus I found some places to put them that will make it a little more difficult.”
Other deputies are on board, taking photos when they pass new dump sites and sending them to Copelin. He also plans to start making presentations at local schools to educate kids about the dangers of illegal dumping.
In the coming weeks, the sheriff’s office will launch a hotline for citizens to directly report illegal dumping as it happens.
Copelin says, “I think #KeepingPottCountyClean is going to become maybe a hashtag or something.”