Starting next month, the FBI will require all police departments to report cases of animal cruelty, which the agency has now labeled as a “crime against society.”
“Do you hate animal abuse? Then you’ll love what the FBI is doing about it.” That sentiment from TheAnimalRescueSite.com sums up the reaction by many in the animal welfare community. The FBI’s new approach is a break through that will place more weight on responding to crimes against animals.
Too often, even the worst cases are downplayed are ignored. “If there were an animal crime, we would just send it over to animal control or ignore it,” said John Thompson, deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association, who fought for the changes. “The immediate benefit is it will be in front of law enforcement every month when they have to do their crime reports,” Thompson told the Huffington Post.
Although it does nothing to impose harsher penalties, this development is important for many reasons. It calls attention to the problem and will allow law enforcement to track cruelty crimes. It could also lead to better enforcement and help with prevention. Police will have to report incidents and arrests in four areas: simple or gross neglect; intentional abuse and torture; organized abuse, including dog fighting and cock fighting; and animal sexual abuse, the FBI said in statement.
Under the old system, animal-related crimes were lumped into a catch-all “other” category in the FBI’s National Incident Based Reporting System. The database collects crime reports from police departments across the country. “There was no way to find out how often it occurs, where it occurs, and whether it was on the increase,” said Mary Lou Randour, senior adviser for animal cruelty programs and training at the Animal Welfare Institute. “Empirical data is important,” she told the Baltimore Sun. “It’s going to give us information about animal cruelty crime so we can plan better about intervention and prevention.”
Research has shown that violence against animals is often an early indicator that a person will be violent toward humans. Animal abuse often occurs alongside other crimes. “In animal abuse, you have total power over the animal,” said Baltimore County prosecutor Adam Lippe told the Baltimore Sun. “If you’re willing to exert that in a cruel, malicious and vicious way, then you’re likely to do that to people, too, who don’t have power, like children and vulnerable adults. It’s an issue of a lack of empathy.”
Randour worked for years to convince the FBI to change its reporting system. She saw first hand the way some spouses use violence aimed at cats and dogs to terrorize human victims of abuse. “It is a form of interpersonal violence,” she said. “It’s another way to try to gain control and power or exercise intimidation.” Between 71 and 83 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their abusers had threatened, injured or killed the family pet, according to a 1997 study cited by the Humane Society of the United States.
Veterinarians and other professionals say the new system will them analyze the backgrounds and patterns of animal abusers. Robert Lewis Dear, who killed three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, had also tortured animals and was guilty of domestic violence.