Four suspects arrested in recyclables sting operation

Police: Stealing out of bins is illegal in Hazel Park

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 1, 2013

HAZEL PARK — More than a year ago, Hazel Park City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal to steal recyclables from their bins. 

On June 23, Hazel Park police made good on this warning, arresting four men in a sting operation involving the placement of bins around the city.

“We’ve been receiving multiple complaints of individuals driving through the neighborhoods on Sunday nights, going through the recycling bins and removing metal that they then scrap for money,” said Hazel Park Police Chief Martin Barner.

This is illegal, the chief said, and for good reason: The less the city recycles, the less money it receives from the Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority (SOCRRA). The city currently pays SOCRRA $27.50 per ton of trash hauled. Conversely, the city makes $50 for every ton it recycles.

That’s a lot of money lost when residents don’t recycle or when their recyclables are stolen, and losing money is not what the cash-strapped city needs right now.

“They (the thieves) are taking money right out of the city’s pockets,” Barner said.

For the June 23 sting operation, police set up bins filled with recyclables at two locations in the city between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., conducting surveillance on them.

Four men showed up that night, each at different times and driving different vehicles. All fell into the same trap: When they tried to take the recyclables, they were arrested.

Among the night’s catch: A 78-year-old and 38-year-old from Warren, a 27-year-old from Hazel Park, and a 52-year-old from Ferndale. Three bonded out; all four were given a ticket. Their vehicles were impounded and are subject to possible forfeiture.

At press time, the four men were awaiting their arraignment. The theft of recyclables is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“Based on the number of complaints we were receiving, and the number of people who had witnessed the thefts themselves, including the mayor and council, we believed it was occurring on a regular basis, so we were confident (the sting operation) was going to be a success,” Barner said.

The chief said they observed other individuals driving by to collect scrap metal, but they didn’t stop them since they weren’t reaching into the bins. They may have been collecting a bed frame or some other item set out at the curb, which is currently allowed.

The goal, he said, is to make sure the bins work as they should, and that what goes into them goes to SOCRRA and comes back to the city to help cover trash disposal costs.

“Our goal is not to punish people,” Barner said. “Our goal is to get the word out this is illegal activity, and we will act upon it.”