Since April, a Hamilton County Sheriff's deputy has been working a unique beat. Caroline Kotlas is one of just a handful of environmental crimes investigators in the state, and is the only one locally. Her job is to find out who is polluting the area, and bring them to justice.
At a press conference Wednesday morning, heralding the work of the Environmental Crimes Unit, Kotlas showed off a photo of a pile of trash in a wooded area. She says it's an active investigation she had to dig through.
"I found pieces of mail with three different addresses, and a prescription bottle with a name on it," she says. "I found evidence. But bringing that back to a particular person, or even if a person owns a piece of property, did they hire someone out to dump that and how do I go back and prove that?"
Kotlas says an investigation can take a long time and may ultimately go unsolved. She's hopeful the fact that Hamilton County now has an environmental crimes unit -- complete with a tip line and website -- that people will step up and assist.
"This is not a glamorous job, but this is good work. This is much needed work, and I'm proud to do it," Kotlas says. "There are very few environmental investigators across the state. This is not well understood in law enforcement. This is not taught in the Patrol Academy. This whole section of law is not even discussed."
Her position is funded through the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District.
The director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency says illegal dumping can have a significant impact, ranging from contaminating groundwater to providing habitats for rats and mosquitoes. Craig Butler says his agency is always looking for ways to stop it. "Whether it's boots on the ground, or helping purchase cameras for surveillance, every opportunity we seek out is about how to keep this from recurring."
Butler says before the creation of Kotlas' position, there wasn't a single point of contact for illegal dumping reports. He says that probably led to many incidents going unreported.
Now, there's a website, ReportDumping.org, and a phone number, 513-946-7788 for any tip about dumping or polluting in Hamilton County.