BY THE NUMBERS
$12,816: Cost to the city in stolen trash cans this year
267: Number of cans stolen since July 2011
34: Highest number of cans stolen in a month over the last year
The amount of stolen cans over the year per month:
July 2011: 23
August 2011: 24
September 2011: 15
October 2011: 14
November 2011: 9
December 2011: 14
January 2012: 19
February 2012: 24
March 2012: 34
April 2012: 24
May 2012: 29
June 2012: 21
July 2012: 17
Jerry Harris has seen it happen a handful of times.
Someone comes into his metal yard, pushing an olive-green city trash can filled with scrap iron. Harris pays them for the metal and tells them to take the can back where they got it. But they usually just leave the container around the corner from his business and, a month or two later, the city picks it up, he said.
"Once in a blue moon that happens," Harris said.
Over the last year, more than 260 city garbage cans have been stolen across Chattanooga.
City records show a sharp increase in the number of trash cans being stolen over the spring and summer months of this year. City officials said that, most of the time, someone takes the trash can with them when they are moving to a new location.
While there have been reports of homeless people using the cans to carry their belongings, Justin Holland, the city's sanitation supervisor, said he knows of no reports that there has been a rise in people stealing cans for purposes other than collecting garbage. It's hard to accuse someone of stealing a can if they claim they are pushing it to the corner for a homeowner, he added.
Ryan Coulter, vice president of the Jefferson Heights Community Association, said there has been a lot of discussion about stolen trash cans on the neighborhood's Google group site. A local business had a trash can stolen, he said, and others in the community also piped in to say they had missing cans.
"I think there's been a few that have walked off," he said.
So who pays when the garbage can goes missing? The person who had the can stolen from him, Holland said.
The city asks for $60 to replace the container. The city itself pays $48 for the cans but charges additional fees for bringing the can to the residence or business and for lifetime maintenance, he said.
Public Works usually handles complaints about the stolen containers since they are city property.
"It's not really a police matter," he said.
Sgt. Wayne Jefferson, spokesman for the Chattanooga Police Department, said police need warrants to search garbage containers sitting on people's property. But police can look into the matter if they see someone pushing a can down the street.
"Pushing the can down the road is different," he said. "But that's rare."
Holland said missing trash cans are always a problem, and the numbers show the picture. New trash containers sit in the city yards off 12th Street, and there's not many days during the year that some containers aren't rolling out of the yards.
"We have containers that need to be released every day," he said.