Palmetto Bay

April 11, 2014

Palmetto Bay may change barking-dog law

Current rules say a police officer must witness violations, although the police chief said a videotape also would work.

Palmetto Bay council members may change the law to make it easier to fine dog owners whose pets won’t stop barking.

As it stands, the village code requires a police officer to witness 20 minutes of continuous barking or an hour of intermittent barking before fines can be imposed. According to several Palmetto Bay residents — and Mayor Shelley Stanczyk — that’s not workable.

“Right now it’s difficult to enforce, and it’s difficult to work with both sides — the dog owner and those that are negatively impacted by incessant barking,” Stanczyk said.

The council was scheduled to consider a revised barking-dog ordinance on Monday night, but decided to hold off.

According to Stanczyk, the proposed ordinance update over-corrected the problem. When residents “who had an issue with the [update] being fair to both sides” called and emailed to complain, she decided to pull the item from the agenda for a rewrite by the city’s new attorney.

Stanczyk said she did not have a timetable for bringing the ordinance back.

The update would have made it possible for residents to submit an affidavit asserting the violation occurred as proof of the violation. One affidavit would have resulted in warning, and a subsequent one within 30 days a citation with a fine.

For village Police Cmdr. Gregory Truitt, that kind of solution elevates hearsay into evidence.

“Here’s the problem with an affidavit: You have someone sign off an affidavit saying that’s happening. I’m not at home, so I have no defense,” Truitt said. “I think it should be witnessed by somebody — not just somebody signing [an affidavit]. What happens if you have neighbors with a vendetta against somebody?”

Truitt said he doesn’t think any change in the law is necessary. He said barking dog complaints are “not a big problem at all — we get them on occasion, but usually they get resolved.”

And, he says, “It’s not a hard ordinance to enforce — if the evidence is there.”

According to Truitt, it’s true that it’s unlikely an officer will get there in time to witness the violation occurring. But a recording will do just fine. Give police a video of your neighbor’s dog barking intermittently for an hour without cause — the city can and will work with that to impose penalties, Truitt said. .

For Truitt, if any update is necessary, it’s just one that clarifies what’s true in practice: videotapes of a violation occurring is good evidence.

But for resident Pam Gorman, that’s still asking too much.

“The ordinance needs to be revised,” she said. “It’s too difficult to enforce. It needs to be easier and less burdensome to prove fault.”

Stanczyk, too, is emphatic that some sort of change is necessary.

“People that I’ve met from across the village when I was knocking on doors explained that they had problems with dogs,” she said. “It’s an issue that creates a problem for both sides, and it needs an ordinance that is workable. And so far, what we have is not workable.”

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