A specialist police squad to tackle the use of dangerous dogs in gang related crime across London is being established.
Over the last two years the Metropolitan Police has received thousands of complaints of anti-social and illegal use of animals in dog fighting, drug dealing and street robbery.
Between April 2006 and November 2008, 1,048 dogs were seized from their owners, compared to 43 in the whole of the proceeding four years.
Breeds such as pit bulls and Staffordshire bull terriers are popular with youths - who use them as a fashion statement, to intimidate rivals or for protection - according to Commander Steve Allen, head of Westminster Police and the Met lead on the issue.
Speaking at a Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) strategy meeting, Commander Allen said the new unit - staffed by one sergeant, five PCs and an administrative support worker - will target owners who are known to be breeding and training dogs for violence.
"In some ways we need to loom at the problem of dangerous dogs in parallel with the capital's knife and gun crime issues.
"We need to put controls on who should be owning dogs and their use of these dogs. "But this problem will get worse before it gets better because it's a youth trend," added Commander Allen, who is head of Westminster Police.
The unit will work closely with the RSPCA to ensure seized animals are well treated and placed in kennels for as short a time as possible.
It currently costs the Met £150,000 a year to look after seized dogs in kennels.
The RSPCA estimates that females of the most popular breeds can be worth up to £8,000 a year to their owners.
While the police have recorded a massive upswing in reports of dogs being used to intimidate victims into handing over property.
Under current dangerous dogs laws it is an offence to own or keep certain breeds of dog including the pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasilerio.
But the RSPCA is calling for a law change to shift the focus on to the action of dog owners, not the breeds of animal.
Cindy Butts, MPA member for Hammersmith and Fulham, applauded the Met for waking up to the issue but urged officers to avoid victimising youngsters who own dogs.
"We have to help to educate young people to be responsible dog owners but we don't want to stigmatise them."