The struggles cities are having with their breed bans were front and center in today's news. And it's becoming increasingly evident that enforcing breed bans is costly and ineffective. There are better ways of doing this (suggestions coming tomorrow), but for today, let's focus on three cities that were in the news today for the failures of their BSL -- including one story of a city council person who has forgotten what her actual job is as a city leader.
I don't usually link to a lot of editorials here, but I thought this one from the Sioux City Journal summed up the mess they've created in Sioux City pretty well. Two years after beginning talks of banning 'pit bulls', and 18 months after actually passing the ordinance, the city has reached a potentially ugly crossroads.
The city has undergone a series of embarrassments following the law: including unconstitutional paperworks issues, breed identification issues, civils suits and the man who pushed for the ban on pit bulls having his Labrador attack a jogger, then get sentenced to death, and then stolen from the shelter. However, things have come to a head now that a deadline has passed for 'pit bull' owners whose dogs were grandfathered in under the ban had to renew their licenses, and approximately 100 dogs are left unlicensed. The cityjust denied the appeal of a military veteran who tried to license his dog 4 days late -- apparently deciding the dog was better off dead than licensed -- and may face the same scenerio 100 times over. Meanwhile, at least 3 members of the council, and the mayor, have mentioned that they would be in favor of repealing the ban.
So while the council is delaying a conversation about possibly repealing the law, the police are talking about going around and rounding up unlicensed dogs to kill them. The editorial wisely recommends to the council to take a step back before it "unnecessarily crosses a line it later wishes it hadn't."
It's good advice for a city that has seen nothing but headaches and struggle with their Breed Specific Ordinance.
The members of the council's dog warden advisory group in Toledo continued its work on defining a dangerous dog in their community. The group was formed because the city leaders in Toledo recognized that dangerous dogs come in a variety of breeds and they are working on making recommendations to change the law so that ALL aggressive dogs can be included, and not just ones of a particular type. "We're trying to address behavior, not breed" said Chairman Steve Serchuk.
There is a new article in the Denver Daily News that talks about all of the legal bills that are piling up on the city of Denver. There isn't a lot of new information here vs what I talked about last month, but it's worth noting that the mainstream media there is picking up on the issue. The city has already settled one payment for $5,000 in one lawsuit, and has at least $15,000 tied up in just two months in paying a local lawfirm to deal with several other pending cases. Many locally are estimating that the city is spending a quarter of a million dollars in enforcing and defending their law -- at a time when the city is facinng a $120 million budget shortfall.
One thing of particular note in this story are the statements made by Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz who still supports the ban. Faatz says she sent out a survey to her constituents and 78% of them said they favored the ban. "That's the will of my voters, so if it takes defending it, I'm willing to defend it," said Faatz.
Faatz's response is indicitive of what many city council leaders have gotten absolutely wrong when it comes to leading cities.
City leaders are indeed, elected by getting the majority of the votes in their community. However, they still represent EVERYONE in their community, even the ones who didn't vote for them. And they are elected to make decisions on what is best for the city, not necessarily based on the will of the majority. If over the course of history, our elected leaders only did what the MAJORITY of voters wanted, we wouldn't have gotten very far. It certainly would have set back the civil rights movement, and it's possible that women would have never been allowed to vote either -- or that Faatz herself would even have been allowed to hold her position.
No, city leaders are responsible for doing what is best for the city, and what is best for ALL constituents. Not just caving to the will of the majority. In fact, it means, in many cases, that they are responsible for protecting the minority from the majority. There is a difference between doing what is right, and what is best, than doing what people SAY they want.
People may say they want a 'pit bull' ban. But do they? Or is it that they want to know that they are protected and safe from dangerous dogs? Those aren't the same things. And if you asked them which of the two they wanted, most likely they'd choose the latter.
There are absolutely ways to protect people from dangerous dogs, while protecting the minority of people from the majority, and doing so in a way that is both effective and is not a drain on the taxpayer's dollars which are now being diverted to pay for city legal fees. Hiding behind your consitutents is the lazy way out Ms. Faatz. What 1400 people say in a survey does not give you the right to fight for ineffective ordinances that are wasting hundeds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money. It is your job to find effective ordinances and then explain to your constituents why that is a better option to solve their need (being protected from aggressive dogs) and their stated desire (to ban "pit bulls"). Don't hide behind your votes.
Tomorrow, I'll provide recommendations for fair laws that do a better job of addressing dangerous dogs -- so cities can avoid the costliness of what is going on in Denver, the enforcement problems in Sioux City, and the lack of protetion from aggressive non-'pit bull' type dogs that is going on in Toledo. Because really, who wants to dive into the problems listed above?
See also: For the Pits -Denver continues to spend thousands on ineffective pit bull ban