FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --It's literally a garbage decision, and it could put a legal lid on about 1500 trash cans in Fresno County.
County supervisors took the first step in creating a scavenger law Tuesday, making it illegal to take anything out of other people's trash.
"I don't know what they're looking for," said Prudence Zalewski, from the Fig Garden Homeowners Association. "They could be looking for identity theft. It has spiked in this area."
It's just trash to most of us, but what's inside these cans is the main attraction for quite a crowd some nights.
"I usually see people come by on Sunday nights with lights on their helmets," Zalewski said.
They come looking for recyclables and maybe more. In Old Fig, a lot of residents worry they're looking through the mail, preparing to commit identity theft. The sheriff's office received 97 reports of scavenging last year, including one from an Old Fig man who reported a guy methodically going through the garbage, photographing some of it, then putting it back. He told Action News the guy wasn't a scavenger. He was an information harvester.
And for all practical purposes, there's no law to stop it. So as it stands right now, anyone can dig into a trash can and look for whatever they want, including possibly personal information from the people who threw it out. Fresno County's board of supervisors is ready to change that. Supervisor Andreas Borgeas wrote an ordinance creating a pilot program in the Fig Garden policing district.
A sheriff's deputy already paid for by homeowners would be able to write tickets to people caught digging through trash. Borgeas said it'd be a low priority, but it gives deputies an extra tool to protect people. Supervisor Debbie Poochigian generally supported it, but she wasn't completely convinced.
"I just have a problem with trained deputies being garbage police," she said.
The cities of Fresno and Clovis already have laws on the books banning scavenging, but police say they're not often enforced and Sheriff Margaret Mims admitted she can't pinpoint a correlation between scavenging and identity theft.
Some Old Fig residents also say the ordinance criminalizes being poor. But Borgeas said residents are allowed to opt out of the protection, and the pilot program only lasts a year.
"Nine months from now, after we see whether or not we like it, we may very well expand it, keep it or kill it," he said.
The new ordinance is expected to go into effect in the next couple months.