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Florissant MO lies & misleads in effort to protect failing ban on pit bulls

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Florissant Missouri's (Population 52,158) pit bull ban is failing its residents. But in spite of this, city officials are actively working to support keeping the ban (on the taxpayer's dime), and then lying to the public about it.

The city passed the ban on pit bulls in December of 2005. That year, the city had 38 dog bites in their city. A decade later, after 10 years of enforcing the pit bull ban, the number of dog bites rose in the community to 82 -- a 115% increase.

These results aren't surprising to anyone who follows breed specific legislation. While there are always more factors that prevent making a 100% causal relationship between laws and results, passing breed bans often is followed by increases in dog bites in a community -- as has happened in Sioux City, IA Toronto, Aurora, CO; the United Kingdom, Omaha, NE and many others.

This makes sense, of course. Animal Control resources are not infinite, and thus, as animal control resources are used on an unenforceable law that target dogs that look a certain way, they take resources away from dealing with stray dogs, irresponsible pet owners or dogs that really are dangerous based on their actual behavior.

Breed-specific laws also negatively "educate" the public into thinking the reasons dogs bite is because of breed - and thus creates a false intelligence in citizens from the real factors and warning signs and how to deal with dangerous dogs.

The rising dog bites isn't the only problem for Florissant -- as the law has also caused 201 dogs to be confiscated from families in the community over the past 5 years -- of which 164 (82%) were killed at the county shelter -- at a cost of more than $7000 to citizens.

Due to the unfairness of the ban, and it's lack of effectiveness, in May, many residents began asking the city council to repeal its breed ban. And have been attending city council meetings and testifying on behalf of a repeal at each meeting since.

However, the city is fighting the idea of a repeal -- again, at the taxpayer's expense.

This time, the city paid a whopping $9700 to do a "telephone survey" to ask the opinions or residents on repealing the ban. The phone survey asked the opinions of 300 residents -- a cost of $32 per phone call. But the phone survey wasn't just to get input from residents -- the series of questions was designed to sway opinions about pit bulls prior to asking about the ban.

In spite of the leading line of questioning, the survey came back with 47.5% of people opposing the breed ban, and 44.5% in favor of the ban.

What's more, is when local advocates asked about the survey -- the city clerk, the city council and the mayor all denied that the survey even took place. It was only after filing a Freedom of Information Act Request under the Missouri Sunshine laws that they were able to get confirmation that the survey took place, the city paid for it, and that advocates were lied to about it.

The advocacy group commissioned its own phone survey using a local survey company, and talked to 555 people at a total cost of just $350 (just 3% of the cost endured by taxpayers) and found that 65% of respondents opposed the ban on pit bulls, while only 29% were in favor.

So while the city is spending taxpayer funds to enforce the pit bull ban, which is killing dogs at taxpayer expense, it is also spending a significant amount of money trying to justify keeping the failing ban. These expenses are coming at a time when the city has rapidly depleted its reserve fund for the city. Taxpayers in Florissant should be really upset by the way their city is handling this.

Fantastic job by the Riverfront Times in unveiling this situation -- and by local advocates persisting through many roadblocks.

If you are a taxpayer in the city of Florissant you should definitely let your city officials know how you feel about their methods of spending your hard-earned tax dollars and then lying about how that money is spent.



One other observation in the Florissant discussion. Often times we've found that breed-specific laws have been rooted not in the behavior of the dogs -- but in the image many have of the type of people who own them. While the image of the type of people who own pit bulls has changed a lot over the past decade, this was certainly a factor 10-20 years ago when many pit bull bans were passed. If I'd had a dollar for every politician that said they thought a ban would keep "those people" out of their city I could have retired long ago.

With this in mind, I find it interesting that the demographics of Florissant changed a lot during the 2000s. In 2000, the demographics of this suburban community were 87% white and 10.5% African American. However, during much of the 2000s, blue collar union jobs left North St. Louis County with Boeing purchase of McDonnell Douglas in 1997 and the closing of the Ford Motor Company Plant in 2006, so many white, middle class residents began to leave Florissant.

By the time of the 2010 census, the demographics had changed substantially -- with 69% of the population being white and 27% African American. Florissant also shares a border with Ferguson, MO, which has recently become an icon of racial stress in this country.

I find it interesting that this ban was put in place in 2005 during the middle of this dramatic racial demographic change for this community.


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