Thursday, June 05, 2008

Crime and Punishment: The Case of Pooper Scooper Laws

I wonder if Gary Becker had this specific example in mind when he wrote his 1968 JPE paper on Crime and Punishment? Google Scholar says that it has been cited 2941 times. Not bad, Gary! As I remember it, one of Gary's assumptions is that it is costly for the state to detect malfeasance. In the case of enforcing pooper scooper laws, NYC's sanitation dept. has hired 7 more poop cops and this has caused a 40% increase in poop tickets.

Now Jim Heckman would argue to not forget about self selection. What type of sanitation worker chooses this line of work? Is this considered a high amenity sanitation job?

This NYT article hints at the "cat and mouse" game played between the owners of the dogs and the public servants who are monitoring them.


New York Times
June 5, 2008
Scoop It Up or Pay: On Patrol With Enforcers of the Dog Law
By J. DAVID GOODMAN

It was just after dawn when Theo Otibu began prowling Ditmas Park in Brooklyn in his unmarked Sanitation Department car. He scanned the sidewalk for an elusive prey, one known only by the droppings of its best friend: the dog owner who does not scoop.

He spotted a woman in a long black coat leading a small white dog. Mr. Otibu, who has been a police officer in Ghana and a United Nations monitor in Bosnia, brought the car to a stop alongside a minivan and watched her in stony silence through his side mirror.

He could see all the telltale signs of negligent intent: the irritated expression, the hurried pace, the absence of a plastic bag in the pocket. “People who pick up have time,” he said earlier. “You can look at some people right away and say, ‘This person is not going to pick up after their dog.’ ”

The anxious woman and her dog made their way down the street, and Mr. Otibu rolled slowly with them. But after five long minutes of hushed stakeout, the dog did not go.

“It’s a lost,” he said, pulling away.

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.)

“We try to do the best that we can, but it’s hard out there,” said Mr. Otibu.

The difficulty of Mr. Otibu’s job is some measure of how much the law has become second nature to the city’s dog owners since 1978. When Section 1310 of the State Public Health Law — the scooper law — went into effect, the violations were more widespread, and more conspicuous.

“It was infuriating,” said Roberta Pliner, an Upper West Side resident. “People would get dressed up for work, dressed up for the theater, and you’d take one step outside and step into it.”

A consumer advocate, Fran Lee Weiss, lobbied heavily for the law, saying children were being infected by a roundworm often found in dogs, Toxocara canis, via excrement. (Health officials determined at the time that the threat from roundworm larvae was real, but not as widespread as Ms. Weiss often suggested.)

While she raised the ire of many dog owners, Ms. Weiss, the president of a group called Children Before Dogs, found support among her neighbors. Ms. Weiss, who is 98 and now lives in California, “was known as the Pooper Scooper Lady,” her son Barry Weiss said. “People would come up to her on the street and shake her hand.”

After the law passed, pet stores began to sell scooping tools, and from 1978 to 1980, at least five New Yorkers received patents.

While virtually no dog owner cleans up with anything more than a plastic bag or a piece of paper now, a bow to the more “refined” methods can be found on the Sanitation Department’s aging signs, which depict a stooped stick figure behind his dog, broom and waste pan in hand. The department does not have a budget for new signs.

By 9 o’clock, prime dog-walking time was waning and Mr. Otibu still had not found any violators. He was anxious. He sped to a spot in Bushwick that he had visited earlier in the day and is popular with dog walkers.

Suddenly, as he made a second trip around the corner of Bushwick Avenue and Seigel Street, he spotted a man in gray sweat pants with two dogs, one of which was crouching, off-leash. “I have him for the off-leash, but now I’m going to wait to see if he picks up.”

He watched as the man turned from the pile and headed toward the agent’s car. It was the moment Mr. Otibu had been waiting for. “I’m going to write him a ticket,” he said, getting out of the car.

The man showed Mr. Otibu his identification and a Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association card. He said that he was a police officer, but that he had forgotten his badge in his apartment. As he went with his dogs to retrieve it, Mr. Otibu wrote him a $200 ticket for not having a dog on leash. When the man returned, he still did not have his badge. He took his ticket and went home.

“I’m not sure he’s a real cop,” Mr. Otibu said. “But that’s not my problem. My problem is to give out a ticket.”

A little later on a nearby corner, he spotted another crouching dog. The owner was on his cellphone, another tip-off. Mr. Otibu watched as the dog deposited in the grass. Not a bag in sight.

Mr. Otibu approached and asked for picture identification. Without identification, agents cannot write summonses, and a number of dog owners sometimes refuse to show ID or claim to have left it at home. Leaving dog waste is a health code violation, not an arrestable offense, so in those cases, agents have to let the matter drop.

The man told Mr. Otibu that he had left his identification at home. He then found a piece of paper on the street, picked up his dog’s small offense, and began to walk away, promising to return with his ID.

Mr. Otibu followed him, at a distance, down the block. Then he stopped and watched the man go. He sensed it would not be worth waiting and turned back toward his car.

“It’s a lost,” he said.

5 comments :

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rgblog said...

I think the primary problem with dog walkers is that of convenience. If they don't have bags readily available they don't bother picking up the poop.

What they need is a product that makes it more convenient to pick it up. Such a product can be found at www.rgpetcomm.com

Once you use the SmartWalk Manager you'll wonder how you did without it.

Cheers,

Canales said...

Well, as wierd as this sounds in Mexico City, the urban department (Seduvi) has just installed some kind of bag dispensers, in which bags are given for free to pick up dog poop.
But talking about incongruities, people still leave their trash bags on corners because there are no containers nor any trash pick up at fixed hours. Therefore in most parts of the cities, house garbage is just left on corners. And which are those, "random" corners? Well, corners which have signs that say LITTERING FORBIDDEN.

But apparently poop dog is a matter of major concern.

jhare said...

Pick up after your dog doesn't have to hurt… I had problems until I found a new pooper scooper at http://www.pixitup.com and realized someone was serious in their design. Uses biodegradable bags, has an adjustable handle and has a spade for tough removal. The bag is big and the price is good. Site has a video that is well do and shows how it works… good job pixitup.

Lesly said...

I think the primary problem with dog walkers is that of convenience. If they don't have bags readily available they don't bother picking up the poop.