City's pit bull ban remains in effect

City's pit bull ban remains in effect

AG will not intervene; lawsuit could bring decision

PAWTUCKET - City officials say they'll continue enforcing a decade-old ordinance banning pit bulls, despite a new law that prohibits such "breed-specific" ordinances from being enacted.

Representatives for Mayor Donald Grebien's administration maintain that the law overwhelmingly passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly this year is "prospective in nature," and does not address ordinances already in effect.

Police Chief Paul King said in a statement that his department will continue enforcing the pit bull ban as long as it remains in place.

"As chief of police, I want to assure all the citizens of Pawtucket that the Police Department will fairly and impartially enforce all the ordinances of the city of Pawtucket. This includes but is not limited to (the section) concerning the banning of pit bulls in the city," he said.

"On advice from City Solicitor Frank Milos, I feel we are on sound legal ground to continue to enforce this ordinance which was enacted for the safety of the public," added King.

Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for Attorney Gen. Peter Kilmartin, a Pawtucket resident and former member of the city's Police Department, told The Breeze that the "time for advisory opinions" from Kilmartin's office "is past."

The lead sponsor of the bill to prohibit bans on specific breeds, Providence Rep. Tom Palangio, did not seek an opinion on the wording for his legislation prior to drafting it, said Kempe, and it would be inappropriate for Kilmartin to issue one now. She said Palangio asked for an opinion from the attorney general's office last week, but Kilmartin did not issue one.

Kilmartin's office will only become involved if and when there is a lawsuit that requires the attorney general to defend state law, said Kempe, and will not be issuing an opinion on Palangio's bill until such a time.

The Senate sponsors for the bill prohibiting bans on specific breeds were North Providence Sen. Dominick Ruggerio and Sen. Frank Ciccone. Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed the bill into law on July 16.

Palangio went on WPRO's "The Dan Yorke Show" last week to question whether Pawtucket officials even believe in the stance they've taken on their pit bull ban. His legislation was crafted as a direct response to Pawtucket's ban on pit bulls, Palangio told Yorke, so to interpret it as only addressing future ordinances is an error.

Palangio conceded that Pawtucket's ordinance banning pit bulls will only be unlawful if city officials continue to enforce it. As long as the ban simply remains on the books, said Palangio, it doesn't appear he or anyone else can do anything about it.

But if Pawtucket officials do decide to confiscate someone's pit bull, and that resident decides to take the city to court over the matter, said Palangio, then the court will decide the legality of the ordinance.

Palangio said he "just kind of assumed that Pawtucket was going to adhere to the law that was passed." Instead of "figuring out a way" to make the law work for them, he said, officials decided to "fight this thing tooth and nail, when ultimately they're going to lose this thing."

Dylan Zelazo, spokesman for Mayor Don Grebien, reiterated the administration's stance on the new ban on breed-specific ordinances this week, saying that city officials believe the law as written is "prospective in nature" and does not have an impact on "pre-existing law."

"I don't see how our law goes away barring a challenge in court," he said.

Pawtucket officials maintain that they've seen dramatic positive results from their 2004 ban on pit bulls, including a sharp decline in attacks from the pit bull breed.