We welcome blogs from anyone with an opinion of issues in or affecting the police service, providing they are not party political, defamatory or containing inappropriate language.
Today’s blog comes from Deputy Chief Constable Gareth Pritchard from North Wales Police, who is a national police lead for dangerous dogs.
The deaths of 12 children and eight adults since 2005 in incidents involving dangerous dogs have rightly raised public concern.
In the UK, there are between eight and 10 million dogs, with 110,000 strays being dealt with each year, costing £57m to the taxpayer and animal charities.
Annually, 6,000 persons seriously injured in dog attacks which require hospital treatment. In addition, 3,000 postal workers are attacked every year, 70 per cent of which occur on private property.
The above demonstrates the scale of the problem, but for me it is the effect on children which is most profound, with many suffering very serious facial injuries which create a legacy of fear and can have a profound effect on a child’s confidence as they grow.
We also know that dogs have been capable of far worse when in the care of an irresponsible owner - and there are grieving families still numb from loss to prove it.
Children are extremely vulnerable to dog attack, not only due to their size, but also their unpredictable behaviour around dogs and their inability to understand warning signals.
The new legislation in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 provides an opportunity to improve the situation.
Of these 20 deaths, 16 occurred on private property. The amendment to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 now changes the law to apply to ‘any place’ instead of ‘public place.’ This change is very welcome as many cases of death and serious injury from dog attacks have not resulted in proceedings in the criminal justice system.
My fellow police officers have reported being extremely frustrated with their lack of powers to investigate dog attacks involving serious injuries. This new power will protect workers who visit people’s homes to provide essential services such as; health visitors, midwives, utility workers and postal staff, all who have to date been unprotected.
This new legislation gives added protection to guide dogs too, along with other dogs recognised as ‘assistance dogs.`
The Guide Dogs Association estimates that 10 of their dogs are attacked each month. It is appreciated how devastating an attack on an assistance dog can be not only to the animal, of course, but to its owner, who relies on their dog every day.
Each assistance dog costs £50,000 to train to the level needed to support a person with limited vision. The new legislation offers additional protection for attacks on assistance dogs which sentencing being available for up to three years.
The Act addresses and improves sentencing, the maximum penalty for the owner of a dog who kills a person is increased from two years to 14 years. Where a person is injured by a dog, the maximum sentence is also increased from two years to five years.
There are a small minority of people who use powerful dogs as status symbols to cause fear and apprehension.
Gang members use certain dogs to protect their operations or their assets which causes anxiety within their community.
The new legislation will hold these individuals to account and has also given provisions to assess whether the individual is fit to be in charge of a dog, and minimise the risk to the public.
Many of these provisions seek to encourage responsible dog ownership in our communities.
Additionally, microchipping will become compulsory in Wales in 2015 and in England the following year. This is primarily a welfare measure but it does seek to hold dog owners to account.
There are currently opportunities available for free microchipping by a number of animal welfare organisations.
Later this year, new Anti-Social Behaviour proposals will be enacted which will give further tools for police and local authorities to deal proportionately and effectively with dog control issues. There are many localities and parks where the lack of effective dog control causes concern to the community.
This limits the ability of adults and children to enjoy the freedom to use their local amenities without apprehension or fear of a dog attack.
The vast majority of dog owners are responsible people who care for their animals and ensure that welfare is prioritised. Owning a dog enhances many people’s lives and they are a healthy part of any community.
I welcome these new provisions as they allow the police, working with local authorities and animal welfare organisations, to improve dog control, encourage responsible dog ownership and improve public safety.