Editorial: $250 Dog Citations Are Egregious, Bad News For Tourism

By / Editorials / الأربعاء, 07 حزيران/يونيو 2017 04:00

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

Earlier this year the Carolina Beach Town Council adopted new rules that eased restrictions prohibiting dogs on the beach from April 1st to September 30th. They changed the rules to allow dogs on the beach before 9am and after 5pm, on a leash. Prior to that, you could only walk your dog on the beach, on a leash, from October 1st, to March 31st.

What seemed like a positive move by the Council to permit people walk their dogs on the beach in the mornings and afternoons during the summer has turned out to be a nightmare for people who get smacked with a $250 fine for having Rover out there on a leash at 9:10am in the morning.

Rules are rules and when someone blatantly violates a rule, there should certainly be an appropriate consequence in the form of a fine.

A parking ticket in Carolina Beach is a way to encourage people to adhere to the rules and a ticket is $10 (goes up if not promptly paid).

Sure, everyone hates getting a parking ticket, but $10 will help us remember next time to pay the meter or just not come back and avoid the hassle.

In this case there are a number of reasons why people may be unaware of the rules governing dogs on the beach during the summer months.

Unlike parking meters where people know they risk getting a ticket because the rules are front and center, that's not the case for rules governing dogs on the beach.

If you use a public beach access you may notice the signs stating the rules. Of course, if you're on vacation, who reads signs when they've got kids, umbrellas and Rover all headed to the beach?

What if you rent one of the many oceanfront condos or houses along the beach front and use a private beach access where there are no signs advertising the Town's rules and fines? You head out for a stroll on the beach with your dog and get a ticket for $250.

That amount isn't a fine designed to encourage people to learn the rules and adhere to them in the future. It's egregious and quite frankly a disgusting way to treat tourists. The punishment doesn't fit the violation.

Over the past several months as the Council discussed hiring a Beach Ranger to patrol the beach and enforce the new ordinance, Council members often expressed a desire for the Ranger to educate people on the rules, much like an ambassador, and if people didn't listen and continued their violation, the Ranger would write them a ticket.
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth was quite clear when he commented in February that, "I want them to be prefaced as an ambassador but I want to have some teeth in it and start issuing some tickets. If we are going to do it, I don't mind expanding payroll and having more people but by God I want them walking around with a receipt book and say I'm sorry sir I was by here 30 minutes ago. I told you you can't have your dog on the beach, you need to leave and here's a ticket."

Shuttleworth was correct. Give a warning and if someone doesn't comply, write them a ticket.

Yet, that's not what many people have reported when appealing their citations with the Police Department. A great many of the appeals are from people visiting Carolina Beach. Prior to the Beach Ranger being hired earlier this year, one man said the police officer didn't give him a warning. Instead, the officer wrote him a ticket and told him he should have visited the Town's website before visiting the beach to learn the rules.

I won't dwell on the number of appeals or each individual scenario (there's not enough room.)

According to Town Manager Michael Cramer, the new Beach Ranger that started work on May 1st, quit on June 1st because he wasn't meeting their expectations in terms of the number of citations written for violations on the  beach. He wrote two citations concerning dogs on the beach over the Memorial Day weekend.
(See report on page 1-A...)

Perhaps the Manager should be more concerned with the number of people the Ranger educated and whom complied with the rules rather than a lack of cititations.

Logically the goal should be to encourage compliance. The goal should not be to write $250 citations for the sake of writing citations.  It will be interesting to look at the citation score card later this year and tally up the amount of revenue the Town generates from these citations.

At this point is appears the Town intends to rain citations upon the masses this summer. And it's confusing, because Mayor and Council have expressed a desire for a Beach Ranger to be ambassadors first and then write citations when people fail to listen and obey the rules. For example, just last week during a budget meeting Mayor Dan Wilcox said, "We also have to remember that unlike a lot of non-tourist towns, non-vacation destinations like a normal community where a fine works very effectively in a community because you have the same people there all the time. So they get the message out to them. I got a $250 fine and it spreads through the locals and pretty much that's your mechanism. Here we have people that are here every week. New people in town every week. So for those people that type of a lesson is not effective. So the police department and rangers are dealing with those people that are here weekly and I agree with if they are acting inappropriately in the back of pickup trucks and all that, zero tolerance. But they have to have some discretion if a family of four brings a little dog on the boardwalk and didn't realize they weren't supposed to have him and they warn them and they are polite and they take the dog away they have to have that level of discretion."

Council should request copies of all appeals filed with the Police Chief to date and for the remainder of the season and keep tabs on how those people react. The diminished and tainted view those tourists take home with them from their vacation in Carolina Beach.

The routine should be to issue a warning and if a person doesn't comply, then write them a ticket. Encourage compliance before breaking out the ticket book.

The most recent appeal letter I read earlier this week involved a Marine on holiday who was confronted by an officer who informed him of the rules and directed him to a beach where they could have their dog by their side. While he was complying and packing up to leave, the officer began writing a ticket for a violation. The man reported that other beachgoers in the area asked the officer to be lenient.

In that case, the Marine and those lounging nearby on the beach all left with a less than favorable opinion of our Town.
Allowing dogs on the beach during the morning and evening hours was a positive action by the Council.

A community is infinitely more brutalized by the habitual employment of punishment than … by the occasional occurrence of crime. (~ Oscar Wilde)

In this case, writing a $250 citation to a person with their dog on the beach, unaware of the rules, is like enforcing a no-wake zone in the waterway by calling in F-18 fighter jets to bomb a speed boat. The punishment certainly doesn't fit the crime!

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