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Want to report cigarette butt tossers around Colorado Springs? Law enforcement has tips

June 11, 2018 Updated: June 12, 2018 at 8:23 am
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photo - FILE - In this Oct. 27, 2015, file photo, a University of Washington student discards a cigarette into a container at a designated smoking locations on the campus in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 27, 2015, file photo, a University of Washington student discards a cigarette into a container at a designated smoking locations on the campus in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File) 

Amid extreme fire danger, police keep cautioning people not to toss cigarette butts out the car window or anywhere outside, for that matter.

And if you "see something," then "say something."

But as hot, dry, windy weather prompts stiff fire restrictions and creates conditions eerily similar to the weeks leading up to the devastating Waldo Canyon fire of 2012, those who report smoking scofflaws don't always get the response they seek.

Sharon Ferguson of Woodland Park said her recent call to the Teller County sheriff's non-emergency number about a smoker in a forested area was "met with very little interest."

Response from law enforcement can depend on whether a patrol car is available to track the offender, officials say. And in most cases, the witness must be willing to follow.

"We will respond and try to locate the vehicle," said Lt. Wes Walter, a spokesman for the Teller County Sheriff's Office.

But the witness must agree to sign the citation and must testify if the case goes to court, he said.

"If you're not willing to sign the ticket and show up in court, there's not much I can do," Walter said.

Woodland Park police field a few calls a week about people improperly extinguishing and disposing of cigarettes, said Chief Miles DeYoung.

"Since we've been through a number of fires, people are pretty sensitive," DeYoung said. "A lot of times, it's folks from out of state (tossing lighted butts)."

Woodland Park police respond "as officers are available," he said.

"The challenge being sometimes we may not have a good description. We ask for color, make, model, license plate and whether it was the driver or a passenger, so when we're able to contact them, we're able to cite that person."

Unless the smoker admits to the crime, the witness also is asked to sign the ticket, DeYoung said.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office was handling one request per hour Monday regarding some type of fire, said spokeswoman Jackie Kirby.

With El Paso and Teller counties and cities such as Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and Woodland Park banning outdoor smoking and most outdoor fires due to the dangerous weather conditions, people are being more vigilant, Kirby said.

But when a lighted cigarette butt is flicked out a window, it's often one person's word against another's, she said.

"We could cite someone after the fact, but it's very difficult to enforce," Kirby said. " ... the reporting party becomes the witness and would have to identify the individual, state the cigarette had red burning ash as it fell to the ground . . . so it presents some significant challenges.

"So it's more of a PR campaign to educate people: 'Please don't do this because this could spark a very large wildfire with the conditions we have.'"

In Colorado Springs, if the witness won't sign a complaint, "We will air the information to the patrol division in which the report occurred," said Sgt. John Koch, department spokesman.

Any officer in the area will "check it in an attempt to locate the offender."

"An officer may be dispatched to conduct further investigation," Koch said. "Whether there is property damage or injury to a person as a result of throwing the cigarette butt is also relevant to any action taken."

In Colorado Springs, discarding a cigarette outdoors brings only a $100 fine under the littering ordinance, he said.

A state littering law carries a fine of up to $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for a subsequent offense.

Someone who intentionally or recklessly discards a cigarette butt also could face an arson charge, Koch said. Arson can be a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the damage that results.

"We need to make sure people are taking this seriously," said Kirby of El Paso County. "We saw the devastation of the Waldo Canyon fire and the Black Forest fire, and the moisture content this season is equivalent to the content we had in 2012 and 2013.

"We don't want anybody to experience that kind of loss because of somebody's carelessness."

And if a police officer or deputy sees someone throw a lit cigarette outside, "You will be stopped, and you will be ticketed," said Walter of Teller County .

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