Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Is Governing through Crime Going to the Dogs?

Ian Urbina reports in the July 23 edition of the New York Times that dangerous dogs’ “mug shots, misdeeds and home addresses went online this month at the Virginia Dangerous Dog Registry, a new Web page modeled after the state’s sex offender registry. It lets residents find dogs in their county that have attacked a person or an animal, and that a judge has decided could cause injury again.”

What is it with this nation’s obsession with online registries of dangerous entities? First sex offenders, (I think I saw somewhere that there were also talking about having registries for illegal immigrants) and now dogs? Its another reflection of how governing through crime has encouraged states to compete for how much they can seem to be doing to make citizens safe from all real or imagined sources of violence. Whether this does produce safety or just more consciousness of risk is an open question.

So far, Virginia is the only state to start this registry (“Counties in Florida and New York have also created publicly accessible dangerous dog registries like the one in Virginia, and legislators in Hawaii are considering one”), but it shows a growing trend among states to include harsher penalties for dogs and their owners. As Urbina reports:

“Created after dogs killed a toddler and an 82-year-old woman in separate incidents in the last two years, Virginia’s registry is part of a growing effort by states to deal with dogs deemed dangerous. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia hold owners legally liable if their dogs maim or kill, and in 2006, Ohio became the first state to enact a breed ban, though it was later overturned.”

The other aspect of this logic is to turn parents into police officers and transform our communities into crime risk maps. For Virginians at least, a vigilant parent can hop from the Megan’s Law database to the Dangerous Dog’s database and see where to avoid on their morning and/or evening walks and jogs, where their children and dogs should not play. It is not difficult to imagine a map of one’s community (that presumably a private-sector person, not the government, would create, possibly a risk-averse mother) that shows hot spots of risk of all kinds—red blinking dots dangerous dog lives here, dangerous felon lives here, dangerous sex offender lives here; possibly large green patches for gated communities; yellow or orange for schools, malls, department stores like Target, movie theatres, and even grocery stores because that’s where predators will go to prey on people; red for SF’s gang injunction areas, until the entire map looks like a war zone with limited “safe” zones.

Perhaps the one encouraging bit here is that the database is not named after either the 82-year-old woman, nor the toddler, who were killed by dogs in the two years before Virginia created the registry in response.


Michael Zhou said...

In some ways, the increasing level of surveillance and its availability to the public is a kind of democratization of power, albeit in a very perverse way.

What's next? A gang of parents going to a house of registered sex-offender and harass him? Oh wait, that already happened.

Unknown said...

Remove the front teeth of these dogs that are in trouble. Leaving only the back teeth for eating it's food. Cruel you say? So is an innocent child being attacked!!! This is a public safety issue.