Sioux City, IA passed a ban on pit bulls in mid-year 2008 - -and over the past 6 years has been the source of a lot of embarrassing moments for the city, including:
3) Breed identification issues due in part to the veterinary community refusing to work with the city to enforce the law
5) A situation where one of the council members who was instrumental in passing the ban in 2008, had his own Labrador Retreiver named Jake, seized for getting loose and attacking a man who was jogging, and then was stolen from the city pound the day before he was to be put down and was never seen again.
6) The embarrassing confrontation with a navy veteran who served 3 tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq for being a day late in regstering his pit bull.
Last month, the Sioux City Journal (IA) ran an interesting, and fairly detailed article about the impact of the city's 6 year old ban on pit bulls -- noting in the headline that the impact of the ban was "unclear". There is some data provided in the news article, and some of it has been used by a handful of pro-BSL zealots to try to promote the "Success" of BSL in Sioux City.
For the past several weeks, I've been trying to track down some of the data referenced in article. I've been in contact with the City Clerk, City Police, County health department and the Sioux City Journal reporter -- and let's just say, the data is even muddier than the article even alludes to.
In the Siouxland area, there are two different primary sources for dog bite data.
One is from the Sioux City police department. The numbers collected by the police department reflect only incidents that involve the Sioux City Police Department and reflects a number of bites, but is not tracked by breed.
The second, is the County Health Department. The Siouxland District Health Department (SDHD) is responsible for keeping accurate information on dog bites in the community -- not just ones directly involving the policed department. According to SDHD Director Kevin Grieme, SDHD collects bite data from a variety of sources: including physicians offices, Emergency Departments and private citizens.
Thus, SDHD has a higher number of bites included than the city of Sioux City, because the Sioux City numbers only represent the numbers of bites that involved the police -- which wouldn't be all of them. It also collects numbers from the entire county, not just the city of Sioux City -- although Sioux City residents account for 81% f the residents of Woodbury County -- so it's a substantial number.
SDHD also tracks bites by breed, whereas the Sioux City Police Department does not. I find it interesting that Sioux City would decide to ban a particular breed of dog when they don't even track bites by breed.
So given that there are two different sources of the data for dog bites, and the data are collected in different ways, and the data tell a pretty different story, the story of the effectiveness of the Sioux City Pit Bull ban is extremely unclear.
Siouxland District Health Department Data
According to SDHD, here are the bite totals for Woodbury County (obtained via multiple open records requests over the years) show the following. The first number is total bites for that year, the second is number by pit bulls, and the third is by non-pit bulls.
2006 -- 88
2007 -- 115
2008 -- 102 (20) (82)
2009 -- 107 (13) (94)
2010 - 134 (13) (121)
2011 - 117 (5) (112)
2012 - 104 (9) (95)
2013 - 121 (6) (115)
They're on pace for about 114 bites in 2014.
The two year average for the years prior to the ban was 102 bites (with the lowest of all the years being the pre-ban year of 2006).
They've averaged 117 since the ban was enacted in 2008 -- including the three highest bite total years.
And it's worth noting that Labs and Lab mixes were far and away the most commonly biting breed in 2013 with 26 bites. German Shepherds had 9. Labs were the leader in 2012 as well (20).
Sioux City Police Department Data
The news article, however, did not use the SDHD numbers, but instead, used numbers from the Sioux City Police Department When I spoke with the reporter, she said this was a conscious decision because the pit bull ban ONLY applied to Sioux City, and not the county.
Note that these are just total numbers (they don't track by breed) and they also will not be directly comparable to the SDHD numbers because the SDHD numbers are calender year numbers, where the Sioux City PD numbers are July-June numbers based on their fiscal year. Also, these numbers represent only bite incidents that involved the police department or animal control.
06-07 - 98
07-08 - 96
08-09 - 95
10-11 - 102
11-12 - 87
13-14 - 73
Based on these numbers, it appears tat there was an increase in bites shortly after the ban was initiated (early in the 08-09 fiscal year) and then after the 10-11 fiscal the numbers began to drop.
It seems unlikey that such a sharp drop in Sioux City would not have a major impact in the country numbers with the city making up 81% of the total population of the county.
It seems more likely that as the hysteria of the moment faded that people were LESS likely to get the police/animal control involved in bites and that the numbers just weren't being counted in the police department numbers.
This decrease in police involvement seems to also be reflected in the number of dogs that they label "high risk/vicious". The numbers of those are as follows:
2007 - 16
2008 - 59
2009 - 49
2010 - 31
2011 - 14
2012 - 21
2013 - 1
Again, it seems odd that there were only 16 "high risk" dogs in 2007, but then, coinciding with the passing of the new ordinance and likely an increase in enforcement as well, the number jumped tremendously for two years before settling back at pre-ban numbers.
To muddy this even further, there is one other factor that may have had an impact on numbers that was not even mentioned in the article.
In July of 2010, Sioux City passed Ordinance 2010-0509 and then in September, 2012, passed ordinance 2012-0649. Both ordinances are fairly comprehensive, but there are several very notable changes including:
1) Regulation and impoundment of "high risk" animals. This was later defined in 2012-0649 as any animal that:
a) chases or approahes a person or animal in an apparent attitude of attack
b) attacks a person or animal
c) bites or harms a person or animal
d) has been trained to fight other domestic animals
e) Is a trained guard dog
2) Defines the duties of the owners of "vicious" animals
3) Creates a definintion of an "irresponsible animal owner" as:
a) Someone who has been convicted or plead guilty 3x in the past 12 months ofr animal at large, animal disturbing the peace, unlicensed animal, excessive number of animals, unsanitary premises due to animals
b) Someone who has been convicted or plead guilty 2x or more for: Animal neglect, keeping high-risk animals without a permit, having an animal declared as a vicious animal
c) Someone convicted or plead guilty to animal abuse or torture
4) Created a section that makes it the duty of animal owners to prevent animal attacks. As such, an animal owner must maintain control of such animal so to prevent biting, harming, chasing harrassing or worrying a person or other domestic animal.
See. I told you this was muddy. There are two sources for bite data for the community, and the data from the two sources are pretty divergent.
My gut on this one tells me that the differential is primarily due to the levels of enforcement and lowering need/desire for animal control and the police to be involved in so many bite incidents after the hysteria of the moment died down. I just can't see much other explanation for why the city numbers would drop, but that drop not appear in the county numbers. It would require a more than doubling of bites in the non-city part of the county for that to happen and that doesn't seem logical.
Another explanation could be that the breed neutral "high risk" dog laws and the "irresponsible owner" laws (both, while not perfectly written, are solid conceptually) have actually led to a decrease in bites in Sioux City. Certainly, there is no evidence in either set of numbers that bites dropped dramatically from 2008-2011 -- and 2010 is the highest number of bites for both sources. However, post 2010, after some solid breed neutral ordinances started taking shape, it appears that bites dropped via either data source.
Regardless of your interpretation (and I'm curious to hear yours), it certainly doesn't appear that the breed specific law had any positive impact at all -- and mostly just led to a couple of years of major headaches and embarrassment along the way.
I am, and continue to be, a strong proponent of breed-neutral, behavior (owner & dog) based dangerous dog laws -- as they continue to prove to be more effective than breed-specific laws, which are, by their definition, both over-inclusive (including dogs that are not dangerous) and under-inclusive (by not targeting dogs that are dangerous but not of the targeted breeds) in their enforcement and ability to improve public safety.
Sioux City appears to be yet another perfect example of this.
Interestingly, the day after the story about the city's pit bull ordinance ran, a Sioux City man was taken to the hospital after being bitten by two "Heeler/Akita" mixes that came out an open door from a home that also had two other adult dogs and nine puppies. The timing of the major bite involving two non-targeted breeds further highlights the poor idea of breed-targeted legislation.