Page last updated at 21:16 GMT, Thursday, 8 January 2009

Row over new dangerous dog unit

A pitbull dog
The Dangerous Dog Unit will cost 350,000

The Metropolitan Police has been criticised for failing to recognise the growing danger of dangerous dogs.

New figures show that in eight months last year 494 dangerous dogs were seized, compared with 43 in the four years leading up to March 2006.

In response, the force has created a new unit to tackle the rise in the number of dogs being used by criminals.

But Cindy Butts, of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said the Met was only tackling a problem she raised in 2006.

Acting Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Allen told a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority the Dangerous Dog Unit will be created in response to the growing use of dogs instead of knives or guns.

Weapon of choice

He said pitbull-type dogs had become a weapon of choice for gang members, drug dealers and street corner thugs.

But Ms Butts said: "When I first mentioned it there was a lot of defensiveness and quite frankly an inability to accept there was something going on."

Ms Butts also said incidents when dogs were used by criminals across London to create fear and intimidate victims were not always recorded by the authorities.

Our thinking here is not about the breed - it is about the deed
Acting Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Allen

The Dangerous Dog Unit, which will cost 350,000, will be made up of a sergeant, five constables and a civilian staff worker.

Officers want to tackle offenders who breed and train dangerous dogs and who use the animals in organised fights.

Mr Allen said the force will link up with the RSPCA, local authorities and other organisations to get dangerous dogs off the streets.

He said: "Our thinking here is not about the breed - it is about the deed.

"It is about the behaviour of the individuals who choose to use these animals as weapons.

"The motivations behind their use can be properly compared with the use of knives and guns and other weapons."

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