Reynoldsburg News

Police chief says pit bull citations are 'complaint-driven'

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Reynoldsburg Police Chief Jim O'Neill says what looks like a crackdown on residents for harboring pit bulls is likely a neighborhood response to groups such as Pit Bulls for Reynoldsburg and Citizens for a Breed Neutral Reynoldsburg that want to change the city's dangerous-animal ordinance.

O'Neill sat in on the April 3 meeting of an ad hoc committee studying the ordinance, which lists pit bull type dogs as "vicious" and bans them from Reynoldsburg.

When asked about statistics that show four citations were written to owners of pit bulls in 2012 compared to 23 citations issued in 2013, O'Neill said he does not send officers out to look for pit bull dogs.

"Our citations are usually complaint-driven," he said. "As the groups began to seek a change in the legislation, we think these cases of pit bull ownership began to come to light.

"Neighbors of some of these dog owners began to realize that pit bulls were illegal, so we started to get calls and complaints," he said.

He said one officer, Vince Scalmato, has been designated to follow up on most of the calls, but that is not his only duty.

"Officer Scalmato has had training to identify the physical characteristics of pit bull type dogs," he said. "The fact that a pit bull is there at all is a violation of our city code. The dog owners are always given at least seven days to relocate the dog before they are cited."

O'Neill said he did not recall where Scalmato received his training, but said if an animal's identification is in question, it is up to dog owners to provide proof -- often in mayor's court if they are fighting the citation -- if they say their dogs are not pit bulls.

On several police reports, including one from March 14, the officer said he identified pit bulls based on these characteristics: "deep muzzle/strong under jaw; ears set high on skull; eyes rounded to almond shape; heavy/muscular neck attached to strong muscular shoulders; deep broad chest, deep brisket (ribs); slightly tucked loins; single coat, smooth, short, close to skin; 50 to 70 lbs."

Scalmato and other officers are also asking to see a registration each time they receive a complaint call. If the dog does not have a current Franklin County dog license, the owner may be cited, regardless of the dog's breed.

Reynoldsburg City Council approved the ad hoc committee March 17, after members of Pit Bulls for Reynoldsburg and Citizens for a Breed Neutral Reynoldsburg, began speaking at meetings about the city's breed-specific legislation. Members of the groups said the state of Ohio removed its breed-specific legislation in 2012.

The ad hoc committee spent its April 3 meeting going over the city ordinance line by line.

"Our goal is to go through the ordinance comprehensively," said moderator Steven Smith, an attorney with experience drafting animal ordinances. "We will get back to the breed-specific portion of the law after we go through all the sections."

Monica DeBrock said after comparing the ordinance to those in other cities, she wondered if it should cover "outdoor feeding of animals, breeding animals in a neighborhood and a limit to the number of animals at one residence."

Members also discussed the fact there is no specific leash law in Reynoldsburg, only a requirement that animals should be under "reasonable control."

"If you have a dog that will walk by your side, it is almost the same as a leash," local veterinarian Dr. Joel Melin said.

Carrie Acosta said she won't go to places where dogs are allowed off-leash.

"That might be putting too much trust in the ability of each owner," she said.

Dog trainer Scott Mueller said he doesn't see a problem with a dog playing with a Frisbee with its owner.

"If he is out there off-leash and playing with his owner, why would an officer come up to you?" he said. "Some dogs are more aggressive on leashes, because they are defending their owners."

Bruce Sowell said he would feel better if dogs had to be on leashes. "If a dog becomes under duress at some point, there may not be reasonable control," he said.

The committee is scheduled to meet once a week, but not necessarily at the announced time of 6:30 p.m. Thursdays.

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