Due process is, at least in theory, a core value of this country. “Liberty and justice for all,” we pledge.
While I sincerely believe that our legal system generally strives to uphold this core value, our actions have not always reflected it.
Due process was not in play when Native American tribes of every stripe were herded into tiny parcels of land “for their own protection” or when tens of thousands of Japanese Americans were summarily stripped of their valuables and shipped to Manzanar after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Due process was conspicuously absent in the trial that followed the murders of four civil rights workers in Neshoba county, Mississippi, on the night of June 21, 1964. In recent rushes to judgement, police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, were tried in the court of public opinion before all the facts have been made available.
Now, due process is under attack by Los Angeles Animal Control (LAAC) director, Brenda Barnette, who drafted a sweeping “Dangerous Dog” edict last February which the City of Los Angeles appears to have adopted as law. LAAC Directive 15-001 ostensibly targets dogs with “vicious” tendencies with the intention of removing them from our streets to preserve the safety and quality of life of our city’s residents.
To accomplish this mission, however, Directive 15-001 slyly circumvents existing animal control laws. For example, under Los Angeles Municipal Code 53.34.2 an impounded animal must be returned to its owner when he or she is no longer required as evidence OR if a notice of hearing is not served within seven days. Directive 15-001 conveniently omits time frames reflecting LAMC 53.34.2 only in that the owner is responsible for impounding and warehousing costs. As cases pile up – 79 dogs were impounded under the directive in March alone – and the hearing process grinds its gears, the number of days a “suspect” dog is impounded is bound to exceed the seven days mandated by city law. Under Directive 15-001, this date will come and go without repercussion. Fees may accrue at a rate that some disadvantaged folks simply cannot afford. In the end, some pet owners may default by surrendering their best friend.
Moreover, many canine “suspects” with perfectly responsible owners and loving homes will be shunted into shelters for homeless animals. This arrangement is not only traumatic for the pet and owner, it robs homeless animals of precious space and can accelerate euthanasia.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. When an animal control officer (ACO) arrives on the scene after a complaint is made, he or she will collect testimony and “evidence.” Under the hail of conflicting accounts, the ACO may have “no choice” but to round up and impound ALL the “suspects” – including dogs of responsible owners that may have only been defending themselves or their owners from attack by an off-leash dog.
Responsible pet owners/parents are among the most fervent proponents for neighborhood safety and quality of life for all residents. They provide proper training and appropriate socialization opportunities for their pets. They are the first to obey local leash laws, scoop up the poop and ask passing dog parents if it is OK for their pooches to have a spontaneous kibble klatch.
But being the most responsible pet parent on earth may not save you from having your most trusted and beloved companion wrenched away from you and warehoused in potentially dismal conditions (at your expense) pending a hearing at which time your dog could be labeled “dangerous,” removed from you forever and possibly destroyed. If your dog is returned to you, he/she could be mandated to wear a yellow collar identifying him or her as “dangerous.”
Apparently, yellow is the new Scarlet Letter.
Close scrutiny of Directive 15-001 reveals its potential for vagaries in interpretation and hubris in enforcement. For example, the “Procedures” section states that a “Dangerous Dog” hearing shall be held “for ALL owners and/or custodians of an animal that has bitten or attacked a person or animal, whether or not a complaint has been filed with the Department.” The “animal that has bitten” could very well be your fur-child that acted in defense of himself – or you – while he was on your property. This edict applies just as much to your tea-cup terrier as it does your massive Mastiff.
Additionally, an animal can be immediately impounded if the ACO believes that the “animal’s safety is at risk” stemming from “public threats” and “media attention” (read: Pit Bulls or any other large breed with a media-conferred reputation for “viciousness”).
Perhaps the most chilling of part of Directive15-001: “The animal is to be impounded immediately and without delay when the ACO and/or supervisor deems the animal should be impounded for ANY other reason.”
Directive 15-001 boasts to have the public interest at heart. However, it appears to be nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt at Breed-Specific Legislation which is prohibited by California state law. If city officials and the public refuse to challenge Directive 15-001, then LAAC director Barnette has her fete de complete.
I pray that some derivative of Directive 15-001 does not squeak through the back door of YOUR city’s government.
No one disagrees that dogs truly posing a danger to life and limb should be identified, removed from the public at large and relocated to the proper animal sanctuary if they cannot be rehabilitated. When a dog owner acts irresponsibly – and serious injury or death of a person or other animal is a result – that person should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
However, the provisions for defining “dangerous dogs” need to be clearly defined, reasonably drafted, properly passed as law and conscionably enforced if they are to be effective and in keeping with our core value of due process.
LAAC Directive 15-001 has all but four of these qualities.
To learn more about the history of LAAC Directive 15-001 and to read a copy of the directive, please visit www.swaylove.org.