Part of the city's trash and bear control ordinance is proving difficult to enforce because of concerns about private property rights, but police say they're still able to issue tickets.
Under a new garbage law that went into effect last year, Juneau residents cannot leave an unenclosed trash can outside until 4 a.m. on the morning of pickup. At all other times, garbage cans must be inside a garage, shed or other enclosed structure.
Because of private property rights and search and seizure laws, police cannot go on to someone's property to look inside trash cans without a reason to do so, according to Community Service Officer Bob Dilley of the Juneau Police Department. The department, which voided six tickets in March after a resident voiced concerns, has changed the way it enforces the law to avoid problems, he said.
"It's being enforced, just not as easily as we'd like to," he said. "It's definitely made it harder to enforce."
The issue affects a garbage can next to someone's home or on a porch, but not one set out on pickup day, said City Attorney John Corso.
"If it's set out for collection or if it's a Dumpster ready for collection, there's a minimal expectation of privacy," he said. "If it's on a porch and not set out for collection ... there may be an expectation of privacy. They may be storing other items that are not garbage."
Dilley said police often follow the path of garbage collection trucks on pickup day to monitor trash storage, but also are concerned about how people deal with their garbage during the rest of the week. If an officer spots something amiss with a trash can, he can ask the owner for permission to look inside, Dilley said.
Even after dealing with the legal questions this spring, Dilley said he has issued between 170 and 180 garbage tickets this year under the ordinance. Bear activity has been picking up in the last couple of weeks, he said. Police logged 70 bear-related calls last week.
"Unfortunately, it's gotten easier (to enforce) because bears are getting into more garbage," he said. "But we're being more reactive instead of proactive, which is unfortunate."
If necessary, Corso said the city could ask a court for an administrative search warrant to gain access to garbage cans on private property. The city would need to draw up a list of administrative standards for inspection and likely would limit the time and place of a search, Corso said.
The city would need to check with the court, but such a warrant could apply to a neighborhood or group of homes, Corso said.
"My impression is that the bear situation has been improving. There have been no serious confrontations lately," he said. "Whether to move on to administrative search warrants would be based on a calculation of needs."
Different from a search warrant used in a criminal cases, an administrative warrant would be more like those used by some building and fire inspectors, Corso said.
In general, people should put their garbage cans where bears can't get them, Dilley said. He urged people without garages and sheds to give him a call to work out a solution.
"I'd rather work with people than get a call from their neighbor and have to issue a ticket," he said. "I'm glad to meet with people."
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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