Another time, someone parked a 25-foot boat there. Boats can be expensive to discard properly because disposal cost is based on weight.

The camera, housed in a metal box about the size of a basketball and costing about $5,500, can hold 700 to 800 pictures. It has a powerful flash, and a solar panel keeps its battery pack charged. Waugh checks it a few times a week by wirelessly downloading the snapshots to a laptop.

The camera recently recorded a woman as she turned around a rented U-Haul truck before disgorging furniture and other belongings under the bridge.

The woman could have unloaded free of charge at a transfer station had she been driving a personal vehicle.

But commercial haulers and people in rentals like U-Hauls must go to the city's Quarantine Road landfill — and pay a fee. Waugh said the economics are such that if anyone pays $20 or $40 to have junk hauled away, it's almost sure to be dumped illegally.

Armed with numbers visible on the side of the U-Haul, investigators easily tracked down the woman. "We got a confession out of her," Waugh said, adding that she'll soon be charged in housing court.

The city can impose a $500 fine for dumping less than 25 pounds, or $1,000 for heavier amounts.

But officials also can file criminal charges, and often do. Someone convicted of dumping between 100 and 500 pounds can theoretically get up to three years in jail and a $12,500 fine, Hessler said. The maximum penalty for dumping more than 500 pounds is $30,000 and five years in jail.

Since 2009, the unit has won 72 criminal convictions, including the 48 that were camera-aided. All told, dumpers have been ordered to pay $19,000 in fines and perform 1,400 hours of community service, said city housing spokeswoman Cheron Porter.

Judges have imposed a total of 926 days of jail time, she said, though most of that was suspended time that defendants did not have to serve.

Six people have served jail time for dumping, including one man who spent 39 days behind bars, Hessler said. None of those was caught by cameras.

More recently, the housing agency has begun seeking restitution to cover the city's cost of disposing of debris. One person agreed to pay $700 for illegally discarding a boat — a cabin cruiser he left smack in the middle of a road off Interstate 95 in Southwest Baltimore. (He got the boat free from someone in Sykesville but told investigators that he wanted only the trailer.)

At the third stop on the recent tour, "Moe's" toilet was still visible, now shoved a few feet onto a privately owned lot that resembled a junkyard.

For a time, dumping fell drastically at this spot, a change Waugh credited to the camera. This has mainly been a nighttime dumping hot spot, he said, and the flash seemed to get people's attention.

But when the city took the camera away some months back, the dumping gradually returned. So the camera was reinstalled on a streetlight, ready for whatever comes its way.

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts