Jun 8 2011
Dog legislation officer (DLO) PC Simon Underwood
Chief reporter IAN PROCTOR speaks to Harrow's dedicated dog legislation officer about his successes in ridding the borough of nuisance hounds.
ONE constable is almost single-handedly taking dangerous dogs owners to task with impressive results.
Dog legislation officer (DLO) PC Simon Underwood is unique in the Metropolitan Police because his direct employment with Harrow Police ensures he can focus his entire attention on the borough and tackle an average of five new cases each month whereas the rest rely on the force's central 'status dog unit' whose DLOs are responsible for five boroughs each.
“I'm delighted to be here and it's been very successful,” said the former pursuit driver now based at the Safer Neighbourhood Team base in Donnefield Avenue, Edgware.
“The cost savings are significant and I'm extremely pleased with how we have been able to expedite cases and get them dealt with effectively and quickly. The figures show we have made a massive difference. It takes the unit something like 120 days on average to turn around cases and ours is 33 days.
“That's not down to them being unable to do the work but unlike me they cannot attend all the court hearing across the Met. We've got a 100 per cent conviction rate on dangerous dogs and 100 per cent conviction rate for animal welfare offences. I've got a good rapport going with dog owners, breeders, dog walkers, the local authority and the courts.”
Since joining in May 2010, PC Underwood has attended 100 incidents – and has only nearly been bitten once when his warrant card in his front trouser pocket fortuitously deflected a ferocious dog's tooth away from the femoral artery in his thigh.
Usually he is only a radio message away for Safer Neighbourhood Team officers or patrol officers who come across a problem or he joins them for raids.
He said: “I'm accessible when a dog comes to our notice on the street and I can get myself there within 10 minutes, and I can advise on a course of action if it's not a prohibited type of dog. I have had very positive feedback from colleagues. They say: 'Dangerous dogs are something we don't deal with day in, day out so it's not something we're necessarily over familiar with and it's good to get advice over the phone.'"
PC Underwood investigates, collates evidence and prosecutes cases himself and highlighted one success where two teenagers caught using covert surveillance engaging in 'chain fighting' in which they each bait a dog on a lead or chain into snarling and straining to attack one another without there being a physical scrap. Both defendants were fined and banned from keeping animals for 10 years.
PC Underwood said: “We had a big case recently where a couple had an adult Pit Bull, three Pit Bull puppies and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the conditions in the property were absolutely appalling. There was broken glass and springs poking out of mattresses, stuff the puppies could easily injure themselves on.
“The man was convicted of possessing and breeding Pit Bulls and nine animal welfare offences. We secured four destruction orders for the Pit Bulls – because the law states you cannot rehouse dangerous dogs – and he received a lifetime ban on keeping animals. That was a really good result for us. The nice thing about that story is we managed to get a deprivation order for the Bull Terrier and subsequently that dog has been found a new home and a new family.”
Not all a DLO's work is prosecuting bad owners. They spend about as much time advising residents how to avoid falling foul of the law, particular with purchases of cross-bred canines, or issuing dog-related acceptable behaviour contracts.
Meanwhile, civil courts, on the application of the police, can allow owners who find themselves inadvertently in possession of a dangerous dog to add their pet to a Register of Exemptions which allows the resident to keep the hound so long as they are over 16 and the animal is microchipped, neutered, tattooed, muzzled, kept on a lead and insured.
This happened to Charlotte Rosen, 25, and her boyfriend Harry Avraam, 29, and their six-year-old red-nosed Pit Bull, called Ziggy, three weeks ago.
Mr Avraam was walking Ziggy – which they have had since it was seven weeks old - through Canons Park near his Edgware home when he was stopped by two Safer Neighbourhood Team officers who were concerned the dog could be a prohibited breed and contacted PC Underwood to confiscate the animal.
Ms Rosen said: “I didn't know whether I'd get Ziggy back at all. I was so upset when he wasn't there. Simon was so helpful. He explained to me the whole procedure. He said he wanted me to get my dog back and to ensure this wouldn't happen again, and we went to court quickly and were granted an exemption. I'm obsessed with my dogs and we did everything we thought we had to do and perhaps it was my fault for not looking into it further.”
The dog was returned to the couple on Tuesday May 24 and Ms Rosen, of Uxbridge Road, Harrow Weald, who also has a Pomeranian and the Chihuahua mixed breed and a Australian Silky Terrier, explained: “I was ecstatic when I got Ziggy back. It was the best feeling ever.”