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Lancaster's dog ordinance is cited in helping to drive down gang crime

January 21, 2010 |  1:56 pm
A Lancaster ordinance imposing stiff penalties on owners of  “potentially dangerous” and “vicious” dogs is reaping positive results, and may have even helped to drive down gang crime in the city, officials said.

The law, adopted in January 2009, was primarily aimed at preventing gang members from using dogs, such as pit bulls and Rottweilers, to bully people or cause physical harm, officials said.

City officials said that 1,138 pit bulls and Rottweilers were impounded last year by the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control. Of those, 362 were voluntarily surrendered by their owners in response to Lancaster’s ordinance.

“A year ago, this city was overrun with individuals -- namely, gang members -- who routinely used pit bulls and other potentially vicious dogs as tools of intimidation and violence,” Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said in a statement.

“These individuals delighted in the danger these animals posed to our residents, often walking them without leashes and allowing them to run rampant through our neighborhoods and parks. Today, more than 1,100 of these animals have been removed from our city, along with the fear they create. Lancaster is now a great deal safer because of it.”

Parris believes there is a correlation between the results of the dog ordinance and a drop in the city’s gang crime rate. Lancaster’s violent gang crime, which includes homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, fell by 45% last year, and there was a drop in overall gang crime by 41%, Parris said, citing statistics from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Under the dog ordinance, a hearing officer can deem a dog to be potentially dangerous, for example, if the animal becomes aggressive when unprovoked. The dog can be impounded, and the owner must have it properly licensed, implanted with a microchip and vaccinated at his own cost before the animal’s release.

Dogs deemed to be vicious can be destroyed if they are determined to be a significant threat to public safety, according to the ordinance.

It also requires owners of potentially dangerous dogs to ensure proper leashing and muzzling, complete a dog obedience training course, spay or neuter their animals, and pay a fine of up to $500 for each offense.

Owners of dogs deemed to be vicious face fines of up to $1,000 per offense, and they could be prevented from possessing any dog for up to three years.

Though city officials praise the dog law, some residents continue to challenge its fairness. They argue that “breed-specific” legislation is an injustice to canines, because irresponsible owners are to blame for a dog’s behavior, not the dog.

-- Ann M. Simmons

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