Chicago’s “excrement” ordinance – What’s really going on?

Courtesy of Dana Weems, a writer for ChicagoTalks.org, South Poop has received a copy of a City of Chicago FOIA request that lists the citations for the last three years under the City’s Removal of Excrement ordinance 7-12-420.

You recall the text of the ordinance:

“No person shall appear with a pet upon the public ways or within public places or upon the property of another, absent that person’s consent, without some means for the removal of excrement; nor shall any person fail to remove any excrement deposited by such pet.”

It’s a lovely ordinance, really: Carry a bag and pick it up.

And for that you avoid the fine of “not less than $50.00 nor more than $500.00 for each offense”.

So, the question that Dana raised (one that we’ve also raised), is how much action does this ordinance get? How many poo cowards are being dragged down to Municipal Court by the scruff of their necks each year in order to pay their $50.00?

We were thrilled when we read in Dana’s article that there were a significant number of citations under the ordinance each year. If each year thirty or sixty people are being fined for walking away from a pile of poo, that’s probably thirty or sixty who are going to have to acquire a bit of poo backbone, even if it needed to be stiffened by the Man.

But who was being caught? And where?

With the data in hand, we can take a careful look –

The FOIA report lists 107 Administrative Hearings under 7-12-420 between 1.25.08 and 12.17.10.

The information in the report is categorized by Case Type, Violation Notice #, and Violation Address, and it lists all hearings held for each case. So, with different ‘Case Types’, some repeated addresses, and multiple hearings for some violations, the data need to be massaged a bit.

We’ve done that, and here’s the summary:

# of Unique Cases (2008-2010): 94
# of Unique Cases brought under the “Sanitation Code”: 60
# of Unique Cases brought by “Animal Care & Control”: 16
# of Unique Cases brought as “Police Issued Tickets”: 18

# of Unique Addresses: 77
# of Unique Addresses brought under the “Sanitation Code”: 50
# of Unique Addresses brought by “Animal Care & Control”: 10
# of Unique Addresses brought as “Police Issued Tickets”: 17

# of Addresses with Multiple Citations: 8

Take a look at those numbers for a minute…

First… what you’ve all been waiting for… there was one (1) Police Issued Citation in the South Loop in the last three years.

There were ninety four citations overall. The great majority (64%) are classified as ‘Sanitation Code’ violations.

Only 19% (or six citations each year, on average) are ‘Police Issued Tickets’.

What’s going on?  This is surely not the picture we all imagined – vigilant officers walking the streets and writing tickets!

And, what are Sanitation Code violations?

There are some interesting clues in the data. Let’s highlight some.

Here’s the overall picture of 7-12-420 citations in Chicago over the last few years. The locations are classified as Sanitation, Police Issued, and Animal Care & Control:

You can see some interesting patterns, can’t you? There’s our one South Loop citation, right near ‘Chicago’ on the map. Police citations are widely scattered, but most are on the north side.

The Sanitation Code citations – there are a lot of them out by the Brighton Park and Gage Park neighborhoods (south of I-55 and west of Western Ave), but Sanitation Code citations are pretty much widely distributed throughout the city.

And Animal Care & Control citations are also widely distributed, but mostly occur on the South and Southwest sides. There’s one AC&C location with multiple citations near 8000 S. Harper just west of the Skyway.

So, what’s unexpected here?

Well, it doesn’t seem likely (at least to us) that Animal Care & Control and Sanitation Code citations arise from ‘incidents on the street’. AC&C and Sanitation inspectors are going to be called to a location, investigating a situation or responding to a report (if any of you know better please let us know).

That is, the occasion for these citations is unlikely to be that described in the ordinance: ‘No person shall appear with a pet upon the public ways […] without some means for the removal of excrement; nor shall any person fail to remove any excrement deposited by such pet.’

So, how do ‘Sanitation Code’ violations arise? Well, it turns out that you can call in to the city and complain about your neighbors!

The city has a website for requesting investigation of Sanitation Code violations, and under ‘What is the nature of this Code Violation’, what do you find?

Dog feces in yard!

A reasonable inference is that the ordinance is being used as a tool to punish people who let their dogs shit in their back yard. You can snitch on your neighbor and get the city to come out and cite them for not cleaning up!

There are a lot of disgruntled neighbors in the Brighton Park area!

Another reasonable inference is that the ordinance is being used as a tool to punish people who neglect or abuse their animals. Easy pickens there – it’s unlikely those who abuse their dogs would really give a shit about ‘picking it up’.

There are 8 addresses with multiple violations. Two are Animal Care & Control cases. Six are Sanitation Code cases. You get the picture. Repeat offenders. Bad situations.

But probably not folks just walking away from their pet’s ‘present’!

What about those police-issued tickets, the eighteen (18) of them issued in the last three years? Did the miscreants pay up? Did they walk home thinking “Man, I’m not leaving dog poo on the street ever again!”

Well… six (6) of them did exactly that (‘Liable by plea’). Six people, yes, two people every year, ‘learned their lesson’.

Three never showed up but were found liable, presumably based on evidence presented (‘Liable by prove-up’). So that’s good.

And the rest? Well, in the remaining nine (9) cases the city didn’t follow up (‘City non-suit’). That’s one half of all the police issued citations!


“I got better things to do than show up in administrative court for a goddamn dog poop citation!”

So there you have it.

Now, we raised the question in a previous post – what if poo citations were written up in the local paper? These citations are pretty rare – man bites dog!

Maybe the Chicago Journal police blotter could keep an eye out for the next one.

We can’t really follow up more on the Police Issued Citations – the names of the offenders are blacked out on the report, and we’re not going to dig further.

So what’s are some of the take-homes?

1st – Ordinance 7-12-420 is worthless as a tool for addressing the problem of dog poo in the neighborhood. This is self-evident from the data in the FOIA report. There is absolutely no enforcement impact of the ordinance on poo cowardice in the South Loop. Indeed, we don’t even really know for sure that the ‘Police-Issued Citations’ reflect incidents on the street. They could be ancillary to other incidents, or could be being issued even in those cases as punishment for other more serious offenses.

2nd – Your chances of being cited under 7-12-420 are less than miniscule. This is easy to calculate: if we imagine that there are 5625 poops/day in the South Loop, and if we imagine that 99% of those are picked up, then there are 20,531 orphan poos left on the streets and in the parks of the South Loop each year. OMFG! With 6 police citations in all of Chicago each year… well, you can come up with your own numbers, but how about imagining that a couple of those were in the South Loop – the likelihood of being caught then is: one in ten thousand. Yes, less than miniscule.

3rd – The police aren’t interested. What about the letters to the editor we see demanding that police enforce the ordinance? Consider some of the comments reported in Dana Weems’ article – “If no one is caught in the act, then there’s nothing we can do” says Officer Beals of the 1st District Police Station. She’s “never given a ticket for the crime and doesn’t know of any officer who has.” And Alderman Fioretti? “When we’re down on police — we’re 800 police officers short … when we have to make sure children graduate schools — we have a lot of issues out there.”

Perhaps the ordinance does work as an ‘invisible nanny’ – surely the Chicago Park District thinks so, what with the ubiquitous ‘Curb Your Dog’ signs they’ve put up. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with a ‘statement of principle’ – clean up after your pup – but we have no way of measuring whether it’s the ordinance or whether it’s social pressure from the community that actually enforces the norm.

Oh, that citation in the South Loop?  It was issued in 2008, at or near 1143 S. Michigan. That’s right about here:

The city dropped the case.

11 Responses to “Chicago’s “excrement” ordinance – What’s really going on?”

  1. March 19, 2011 at 10:42 am

    PoopBags.com loves this post! It’s beautiful. Thank you for the shout out in an earlier post! Also, we have a 1,000 Poop Elimination March: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xTZY-RAeOM.

  2. May 25, 2011 at 8:15 am

    With a large amount of fresh poo in front of 1255 S. Michigan, does anybody know who the culprate is? It seems like it should be easy to catch them/get a photo? Anybody?

  3. 4 Violet
    February 20, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Love the blog, hate the dog poop. I live in the City of Monroe, North Carolina and we do NOT have a dog poop ordinance. I am also surrounded by 3 neighbors (left, right, and behind) who collectively have 5 dogs and don’t clean up their dogs’ feces; during the warmer weather my property smells like one big dog turd, can’t even open my windows or have a BBQ. Also, one of my neighbors lets their dog crap in my side yard; it’s not a small dog either. It’s winter so I haven’t been in the yard much, but I recently discovered my side yard looks like a dog toilet (9 turds in the last month…and those are only the ones that I’ve found, no telling how many more are out there among the leaves). They tried to blame stray dogs…but the only dog I’ve seen in my yard all winter is their dogs, and I never had a dog poop in my yard problem before they got the dog. And all the turds look like they came from the same dog, you know. Not only that, but their children run around barefoot in their backyard, rolling around on the grass like kids do during the warm weather. I cringe everytime I see the children out there. I mean, WTF? The last time I caught the dog pooping in my yard, I asked them to clean it up and they screamed at me. Wrong move. So I had my property surveyed and I’m putting up a fence; when they came home, they started pulling out my survey stakes and screamed at me again because this will prevent them from being able to use my driveway. Man, what is wrong with people?

  4. 5 Wanda
    August 11, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Here is a fascinating dog poop case. The judge refused to be the first to rule on whether dog poop is property damage. http://hi.findacase.com/research/wfrmDocViewer.aspx/xq/fac.20110211_0000073.DHI.htm/qx

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