05 June 2008

NYC - Scoop Your Poop or Pay a Fine

Dressed in plain clothes and driving white hybrid Toyotas, Mr. Otibu and the 14 other agents in the Sanitation Department’s Canine Task Force fan out across the five boroughs each day to enforce the city’s “pooper scooper” law, which went into effect 30 years ago and became the model for other large cities.

The city’s 311 complaint line received about 3,000 complaints about dog waste last year, up from 2,100 in 2004, and so the Sanitation Department has added seven agents to the task force. In the first 11 months of the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, they handed out 869 summonses, an increase of roughly 40 percent over the same period a year before.

The maximum fine, $100, which has not changed since the law was passed, is likely to go up soon: A bill increasing it to $250 is awaiting Gov. David A. Paterson’s signature. A spokesman for the governor said on Wednesday that Mr. Paterson was reviewing the measure.

(The parks department, which issues the tickets in city parks, has discretion to fine $50 to $1,000.)

The most summonses have been issued in the Bronx, with 335 in the first 11 months of this fiscal year, compared with 215 in Brooklyn, 157 in Queens, 109 in Manhattan and 53 in Staten Island.

“The more people you put out there, the more summonses you get,” said Sanitation Commissioner John J. Doherty, who wrote his first ticket as a sanitation enforcement agent in 1973 to a couple who didn’t curb their dog. Curbing dogs, or making them go in the gutter as opposed to the sidewalk, was the law at the time. (It is still on the books, but rarely enforced.) “We put more people on it. But still it’s not always easy to catch someone.”

To issue a summons, the agent must witness the dog doing its business and the owner walking away. With about a half-million dogs spread across the city’s 305 square miles and an offense that can take less than 30 seconds, the odds are against the agents. Most agents find only one or two so-called K-9 violations in progress each day. (The task force also issues $200 fines for dogs that are off-leash, and for throwing household trash in city garbage cans.)

[Source: The New York Times]