Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Couch Crimes: DEQ Wants Police to See Illegal Dumping as More Than an Eyesore

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Couch Crimes: DEQ Wants Police to See Illegal Dumping as More Than an Eyesore

Article excerpt

LAWTON - A mound of tires or barrels of hazardous material are more than just eyesores to Michael Freeman; they're crimes.

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality investigator hunts for environmental violations and trains local law enforcement officials to spot warning signs. He said he wants to help police understand when to call the DEQ for assistance or collaboration to investigate illegal dumping.

The agency works with police departments, tribal governments and state and federal agencies on investigations.

On Wednesday, Freeman discussed how to spot environmental crimes with police officers and Comanche Nation officials at the tribe's Watchetaker Hall north of Lawton. The daylong workshop counts as continuing education for the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, or CLEET.

Cotton County Emergency Management Director Shawn Strange said he learned how to deal with an ongoing problem in the area: copper burning. People often steal copper wire, then burn it to remove the plastic coating, because they can get a much higher price when the copper is sold to a recycler. Stealing copper is a misdemeanor.

But Strange, who is also a Tillman County reserve deputy, said Freeman taught officers that copper burning is also a felony. When copper wire is burned, it creates a lead byproduct, which is considered hazardous material.

"We can call on DEQ to assist us to do the testing of the lead byproduct from burning of copper wire," Strange said. "We didn't know we had that help available to us."

The training will help Walters police officers be prepared for anything they encounter in the field, Chief Mike Carter said. One of his officers and one reserve officer attended the event. The southwestern city of about 2,500 people hasn't had any major illegal dumps, he said. Yet it's not unusual to see piles of couches, mattresses, washers and dryers, or a few tires dumped along rural roads in Cotton County, Carter said.

The piles are more than unsightly, Freeman said. …

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