LYME Regis Town Council has reported that some of its staff have been subjected to abusive and aggressive behaviour from dog owners.
In its latest column for LymeOnline, the council said its enforcement officers had been subjected subjected to verbal abuse, shouted and sworn at, called obscene names, accused of targeting lone females, and derided on social media.
The council said this type of behaviour “will not be tolerated”.
The reported abusive behaviour follows the introduction of a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) in January 2021, which means dogs must remain on leads on the main sand and Cobb Gate shingle beach in Lyme Regis in the winter months.
While Dorset Council introduced the rules, the town council officers enforce them on a day-to-day basis.
Many dog owners have made it clear they disagree with the on-lead rule, with a petition launched to see it reversed.
A statement from Lyme Regis Town Council said: “The council has a zero tolerance policy to this kind of behaviour towards its staff and will not hesitate in reporting incidents to the police.
“Since the introduction of the new dog-related PSPO in January 2021, our officers have found it increasingly difficult to do their job in advising dog owners of the rules.
“Although dogs continue to be allowed on front beach between October 1 and April 30, the PSPO introduced a new rule that they must be kept on a lead.
“While some dog owners are genuinely unaware of the changes and are happy to put their dogs on a lead when asked by our enforcement officers, there are others who are less willing.
“Our officers have been subjected to verbal abuse, shouted and sworn at, called obscene names, accused of targeting lone females, and derided on social media – just for doing their job.
“The enforcement officers deserve to be treated courteously and with respect for the work they are doing to make Lyme Regis a safe and pleasant place.
“The officers come to work to do their job to the best of their ability and one of their roles is to effectively enforce the PSPO – they are not paid to tolerate abuse and aggressive behaviour from people who disagree with the rules.
“The most unfortunate part of this is that these people are local dog owners who are well aware of the rules but choose to ignore them to prove a point.
“Up until now our enforcement officers have taken a ‘softly softly’ approach and rather than issuing fines, they have tried to educate dog owners on the new rules.
“To be very clear, allowing a dog to be off a lead on front beach between October 1 and April 30 is a criminal offence and failing to provide an enforcement officer with a name and address when asked is a further criminal offence.
“Our position has the full backing of Dorset Council, which introduced the new PSPO, and our enforcement officers are authorised under the order to issue fines.”
Cllr Laura Miller, Dorset Council’s portfolio holder for Customer and Community Services said: “Abusive behaviour toward enforcement officers is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
“Regardless of how people feel about the rules regarding keeping dogs on leads on the beach during the winter months, officers are merely trying to do their job under challenging circumstances.
“They certainly do not deserve to be sworn or shouted at, or targeted via social media or vexatious complaints.
“The PSPO has been put in place to protect the public when using public spaces; both from the point of view of public health – the use of the sand as a toileting area – and to prevent dogs interfering with beach users.
“At present, officers are trying to verbally inform and educate those who are knowingly or unwittingly breaking the rules, and they haven’t issued any fines to date.
“However, if this behaviour continues we will not hesitate to crack down harder on repeat offenders by fining them and even taking further action if we feel it’s appropriate.
“The current PSPO will be reviewed in two years’ time and will be subject to a public consultation so local residents can politely express their views.
“But, in the meantime, abuse of officers on patrol does not serve any purpose other than to cause upset and damage the morale of frontline workers who do not make the rules.”