MANSFIELD — Josh Loney said truck drivers hauling trash from the transfer station in Mansfield to the Noble Road Landfill are often surprised when they see his cruiser lights come on behind them.
“They’ll get a little upset,” the Richland County Sheriff’s Office deputy said. “They will say, ‘The state patrol doesn’t even pull us over. Why in the world is a deputy pulling us over?'”
But the word must be getting out — there literally has been a new sheriff in town since June of 2022 in terms of enforcing the state’s litter and illegal dumping laws.
Working under a contract funded by the Richland County Solid Waste Management Authority, the 30-year-old Loney makes it clear to garbage haulers and other offenders that violations won’t be tolerated.
It’s part of a solution to trash, litter and illegal dumping that Mansfield and county residents have decried for years.
Granted, there are limitations. Loney is the only law enforcement officer assigned full-time to the issue. Other communities around the country grapple with the same problems and are trying to find solutions of their own.
In Cleveland, for example, the city recently up with Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve University through the Internet of Things, or IOT Collaborative, to create a deployable smart camera system that will recognize illegal dumping as it’s taking place and report it to law enforcement.
The pilot project was made possible through funding from the Cleveland Foundation.
In Ceres, Calif., city officials are using American Rescue Plan Act funds to boost code enforcement activities, including adding more staff and buying more equipment.
“Illegal dumping, un-permitted vendors and unauthorized camping have been an issue for many years,” Ceres police chief Rick Collins told City Council. “Business activities, property maintenance standards and zoning violations are also a concern.”
Loney’s work includes the times he stops trucks traveling north on Ohio 13 between the transfer station on Newman Street in Mansfield and the landfill in the northern part of the county.
Loads must be secured — with no refuse flying out along the way.
“I explain to them I am under a contract with Solid Waste and we’re trying to help out the residents along State Route 13. It’s not fair to the residents to have come out of their house every day and clean up garbage from their front lawns.
“It’s not fair and it’s not good for the environment. I pull them over and politely explain to them the reasoning why I have pulled them over and why they are being cited,” Loney said.
A Willard native who attended Pioneer Career & Technology Center, Loney joined the RCSO as a corrections officer 11 years ago. After seven years working in the jail, he joined the department’s road patrol.
He was happy to see the environmental position created.
“It was something that I could focus a lot of my attention on. On the patrol side, you divide your time up with drugs and traffic and domestic violence and assaults.
“This was something I could focus a lot of my time and energy on one specific detail. That attracted me a lot,” Loney said.
That work can be as simple, and messy, as sorting through a bag of illegally discarded garbage to see where it came from.
“Sometimes it’s disgusting,” he said. “I glove up and rip the bag open. Sometime, during the summer, there are maggots crawling all over. But we’re going to find the evidence,” he said.
The patrols along the Ohio 13 corridor are just part of the duties for the position approved by the RCSWMA board in January 2022.
Eddie Hale, director of the solid waste authority, said seeds for the law enforcement effort began in 2019 during a meeting with the RCSO and Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker, a member of the authority board.
Littering and illegal trash dumping issues were also clearly identified by Mansfield residents during the first Richland Source “Talk the Vote” sessions before the November 2019 elections.
Those sessions led to key portions of the initial “Citizens Agenda” presented to the city’s elected leaders in January 2020 and were part of a four-part Solutions Journalism series published by Richland Source in February 2020.
“If we really want our community to shine, if we really want to draw economic development and investment in Mansfield, if we want to say we’re proud of our city, we have to quit wallowing in garbage,” said Jean Taddie, then representing the 6th Ward on Mansfield City Council.
The environmental enforcement position was ultimately included in the RCSWA’s five-year, 210-page plan approved by the board in 2020.
“Unfortunately, it took a little longer than we expected to get everything worked out,” Hale said, pointing to the COVID-19 pandemic and other projects requiring financing.
Loney also investigates illegal trash dumping, including around the authority’s 78 recycling boxes throughout the county, and identifying unlicensed trash haulers.
Residents with concerns about littering and illegal dumping should contact their city or village police departments. Those officers will conduct initial investigations and make referrals to RCSO Deputy Josh Loney as needed.
“If you are inside the city limits of Mansfield (for example), call Mansfield police. They will investigate, take photos, submit evidence and forward the case to me as needed and I will take it over,” Loney said.
Residents in unincorporated areas should contact the RCSO directly at 419-524-2412.
“If I am off duty, dispatchers will contact another deputy. They will go out and do the report and forward it to me, if it’s deemed necessary,” Loney said.
During his first seven months in the position in 2022, Loney said he made 20 traffic stop and wrote 15 tickets. He also handled 60 calls for littering, issued 34 summons related to littering and completed 38 general offense reports.
His citations to residents and businesses include fines — and require restitution that must be paid to have the trashy areas cleaned up.
“If you are going to drive trash to the Noble Road Landfill, you better do it the right way,” Hale said.
RCSO Capt. Jim Sweat said Loney has done great work.
“I know Josh has taken a large burden off of patrol’s shoulders, handling a lot of these calls that normally would be handled by patrol. Not just for our office, but the follow-up (investigations) he’s doing in other subdivisions,” Sweat said.
“In terms of the overall process, I don’t think we could have asked for it to go any better. We have the perfect deputy for the position and a great relationship with the Solid Waste board, county commissioners and the sheriff,” Sweat said.
Continuing to develop the relationship with Mansfield police and the city’s codes and permits department will be key.
The captain also said Loney’s position was not created to respond to a couple of bags of trash encountered by Mansfield police.
“It’s the larger dumps, the materials, the tires, the five couches and that type of stuff. I don’t want to underestimate our relationship with Mansfield, because the mayor is on the (RCSWA) board and he’s been very supportive of the program.
“But I guess just the expectation, what we expect to see from (Mansfield authorities), are the larger (illegal) dumps. Not necessarily just a bag here, a bag there, that’s not what his position’s intended to do.
“Same thing with our deputies. If they just get a bag here, a bag there, they may not send that case to him either. They may just handle it on their own,” Sweat said.
Hale said he’s also pleased and that the annual contract with the RCSO was recently renewed.
“The program has exceeded what I expected,” he said.
Maj. Joe Masi echoed Sweat.
“It’s good to see that somebody’s out there that can enforce the laws and make people aware that this is not gonna be tolerated,” Masi said. “Somebody’s watching and we are following up with enforcement.
“Deputy Loney has done a great job. He’s aggressive. He seeks out, he investigates and he attempts to find out who is doing the (trash dumping).
“If he sees violations of garbage trucks, he has been there to pull them over, make them use their tarps and issue citations as necessary,” Masi said.
Hale and Loney both pointed to issues around the solid waste authority’s recycling bins. The bins are emptied twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. (To locate these bins and understand usage rules, visit https://www.richlandrecycles.com/drop-off-locations.)
“The public needs to know (Loney) is patrolling our recycling boxes,” Hale said.
“Our problem is everybody wants to go down on the weekend, which is understandable. Everybody wants to take the recyclables in on the weekend. What happens is those bins get filled and by Monday there’s stuff on the ground and things are blowing where they shouldn’t blow,” Hale said.
The private hauler who picks up the recyclables charges the RCSWA additional money if the driver has to get out of his truck to collect material left on the ground.
“We are watching the bins. But if (the public) will utilize them during the week (also), we shouldn’t have the issues that we’re running into a lot,” he said.