We’ve made great strides in tackling anti-social behaviour over the last 15 years. However, this government is in real danger of both making a mess of the anti-social behaviour legislation and of missing some real opportunities to sort out some powers which are necessary to take action when people and communities are afraid.
The latest example of this is that the coalition government is planning to water down the powers to control dangerous dogs, despite a growing number of attacks. The government is planning to axe dog control orders in England and replace them with a general "public spaces protection order" which covers everything from crack houses to littering in parks.
An all-party committee of MPs has criticised the move, warning that merging dog control with other anti-social behaviour powers will make the menace of aggressive behaviour by dogs less of a priority for councils and police. An estimated 210,000 dog attacks on people occur every year, and, in 2011-12, 6,450 victims ended up in hospital.
The current dog control orders cover all breeds, not just the four specified breeds under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Owners face £1,000 fines if they fail to keep dogs on leads in specified public places or have six or more dogs per individual. In Scotland and Wales, there are new dog control notices that can be used to order that specific animals are muzzled, but Ministers are refusing to consider such orders in England.
The Dangerous Dogs Act covers only a narrow list of fighting breeds, including pit bull terriers, and does not address the problem of other breeds of dogs attacking in packs. Dog welfare charities say the government’s proposals don’t effectively tackle irresponsible dog ownership and are likely to make the problems worse.
We need tougher laws to tackle dangerous dogs, and councils and the police need powers to deal with aggressive behaviour before it turns into a vicious attack. There is huge public support for strong powers to tackle the issue. It’s difficult to understand why the coalition government Government is not responding to it.