An open letter to Durham City Council regarding barking dogs
I had a frustrating day in court yesterday trying to deal with this issue, as the citation issuing police officer did not appear to testify in the case against one of my neighbors. I'd like to review the history of the barking dog issue, and ask some questions of the City Council.
Prior to September 2006, there were three ordinances that pertained to barking dogs. There was the city noise ordinance, Chapter 26, Article II, Section 26-23, Paragraph b3, which reads: Particular noises prohibited. The following acts, among others, are declared to be unreasonably loud and disturbing noises in violation of this section but the enumeration shall not be deemed to be exclusive, namely: (3) The keeping of any animal or bird which, by causing frequent or long continued noise, shall disturb the comfort and repose of any person in the vicinity.
There is also a county ordinance which reads similarly. But, prior to September 2006, primary enforcement of barking dogs was carried out by the county Animal Control Department under the nuisance animal provision of the County Code. This provision declared that dogs which barked in excess of one time per minute for ten minutes were nuisance animals, and could be impounded by the Animal Control Department.
In September of 2006, following months, if not years, of non-existent enforcement of this provision, the Board of County Commissioners, at the request of the director of the Animal Control Department, struck this provision from the nuisance animal section of the code, reasoning that the noise ordinances, which were enforced by City of Durham police officers (or County Sheriff's Deputies in the unincorporated areas of the county) would be a more efficient and effective method of combating this infringement on the quality of life of Durham residents.
In December of 2008, citing in large measure the volume of calls received by the Durham 911 system relating to barking dogs, the City of Durham announced the creation of a non-emergency number for residents to call instead of 911 to make complaints about barking dogs, among other non-life-threatening violations. I asked Jim Soukup, the director of the Durham 911 system, how many requests for service regarding barking dogs were actually received. Jim reported to me that between January 1, 2007 and November 30, 2008, a total of 7299 barking dog violations were reported to Durham 911. This amounts to about 310 per month for each of the 23 months in the period studied. Jim also reported to me that this number represented 1.7% of all calls for service received by the 911 system.
I think it's reasonable to assume that the actual number of instances in which residents had their "comfort and repose" disturbed by barking dogs during that time was significantly higher, as many people will be naturally reluctant to use the 911 system to deal with a quality of life issue. As the use of the new non-emergencynumber grows, it will be interesting to see by how much calls for service for this particular violation grow.
On July 12, 2008, one of my neighbors was issued a citation for allowing his dog to bark for approximately 5 consecutive hours, between 5 am and 10 am, on a Saturday morning. That case was supposed to be heard in court yesterday, January 13. I was subpoenaed as a witness for the state. The citing officer did not appear, and the state was reluctant to bring the case before the judge, assuming that the charges would be dismissed outright. Instead, I was asked to attend a mediation session with the defendant. Given the alternative of having the charges dismissed, I agreed, although in no way do I accept that the situation represented a "dispute" that needed "mediation." Rather, we have a clear violation of the law that needed to be dealt with. We reached an agreement that is, for all practical purposes, unenforceable, and i see no reason to believe that it will be honored.
Here are the questions I have for the city council.
Of the approximately 7300 complaints received in the period discussed above, how many were responded to by Durham police officers?
Of these, how many were resolved to the satisfaction of the complainant?
Of the remainder, how many resulted in citations for violating city ordinances?
How many of these citations were paid? How many were challenged in court? How many guilty pleas were entered?
How much money does the city of Durham estimate that it spends each year responding to barking dog complaints? How much money does the city collect in fines each year as a result of these violations?
Is the city proactively monitoring the number of complaints made under this ordinance now that a non-emergency phone number has been established to receive these calls? What plans does the city have to minimize the occurrence of this particular quality of life violation?
I recognize, especially now, that with property crimes increasing at an alarming rate in many parts of the city, quality of life violations may not be the highest priority of our law enforcement officials. However, as numerous studies have shown, deteriorating quality of life encourages productive and law abiding citizens to move out of neighborhoods, lowering property values, reducing tax receipts, increasing vacancy rates, and in general contributing to a downward spiral in the life of a neighborhood. Barking dogs are merely one symptom of a decay in quality of life in our city, but one that carries with it, i think many hidden costs. I am curious as to whether or not these costs are being recognized by you as our elected leadership.
Thank you for your time,
UPDATE: I did get some communication back from Durham PD indicating that the citing officer was home yesterday with sick children, and that the DA's office should have been aware of that, and asked for a continuance on that basis. Time will tell whether the mediation was a superior solution or not.