In an effort to quell resident complaints about dogs on the municipal beach, one Gulfport police officer had an idea and the goal of his new project is to educate animal walkers to fix the issue.
Installed during the week of August 4, the first Facebook posting of one of the new signs was published that Friday by Gulfport resident Margarete Tober. The exact wording on the small blue signs reads “No Dogs/Animals Beyond This Point.”
Soon, a total of four signs will be located in the grassy area just south of the sidewalk that runs east and west parallel to the water and adjacent to the parking area as part of a community-policing project created by Officer Dave Janovich.
“It’s not our intent or desire to punish people,” he said. “I’m a dog owner myself. I love dogs. But, as dog owners, we have to be responsible to make sure we take our dogs to proper places to do their business.”
Technically, the municipal beach area begins in the grassy area located next to the sidewalk and extends southward through the sand to the water’s edge of Boca Ciega Bay, he said. City ordinance 1992-05, section 5-28 stipulates that dogs are not allowed on the beach.
Janovich, on the force for a little more than a year, had a hunch about a pattern with violators. He did some research then came up with a plan to help dog walkers become more aware of the law and that the beach also includes the grassy area.
“The dogs are urinating or doing their business in that area,” said Janovich. “And, you have a lot of the beach goers who don’t realize that they’re walking to their car or to the restrooms in their bare feet through that grass.”
There are also several more detailed “No Dogs” allowed signs in the beach area that list the exact ordinance number. But, an area about the length of a football field between the playground and volleyball courts has been left without clear signage especially regarding where the beach begins, which is on the grass, he said.
What about the inclusion of the word “animals” on the new signs? “There’s also an ordinance against loose cats,” he said. “But, my main concern is dogs.”
His plan also includes a new verbal warning tracking system. Law enforcement officers and staff now have the ability to archive identifying information about those dog walkers who have received informational warnings.
“There are some residents that we have caught out there a couple times and, in the past, if we didn’t have the same officer catching these people, they are continually getting warnings,” said Janovich.
Now, after one warning, “frequent flier” violators are subject to receiving a ticket for an ordinance violation that will cost them $93, he said.
For his next step in the project, Janovich plans to partner with owners of rental properties to get the word out to out-of-town visitors and vacationers regarding the ordinance and the boundaries of the beach.
“If I had it my way, nobody gets fined for this,” he said. “The problem just gets rectified with additional awareness.”