WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) - The link between animal abuse and other violent crimes is well-documented, and law enforcement agencies and courts are recognizing that people who commit serious acts of animal abuse frequently have past criminal histories or are more apt to commit violent crimes against humans.
Beginning January 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation will collect data on animal cruelty offenses as separate offenses in the National Incident Based Reporting System. Up until now, data on animal cruelty offenses was collected under “all other offenses.”
The National Sheriff’s Association and the Animal Welfare Institute submitted proposals to the agency’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program to add animal cruelty as a separate offense in the system, according to the FBI.
Animal cruelty will be added as a Group A offense under “Crime against Society.” The offense will include four types of animal abuse: simple/gross neglect, intentional abuse and torture, organized abuse (dogfighting and cockfighting) and animal sexual abuse.
The FBI defines animal cruelty as “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment.” Animal neglect is also included. However, the definition does not include proper maintenance of animals for show or sport; use of animals for food, lawful hunting, fishing or trapping, the FBI said.
Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis said he agrees with tracking the data.
“With a specific designation we can better track the extent, breadth and who the people are committing them,” he said. “It is a sick sort of behavior that we should be tracking. There is a clear link between violence against people that often starts with violence against animals.”
He said the tracking will allow law enforcement agencies to evaluate such crimes better, and allocate resources.
Criminologist Alfred Blumstein, of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said there is little question that the UCR is the dominant source of information about crime, both nationally and locally. Police departments pay attention to it because information included in it is coming from them, he said.
“There are other sources, but the most widespread is the UCR, and we would all like to see richer information about the crime incidents, and the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the Department of Justice are making efforts to strengthen that,” he said.
Richard P. LeBlond, chief of the law enforcement division of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said animal cruelty is a major problem in Worcester County and throughout the state. Tracking the data is a step in the right direction, he said, and it will help judges taking it a lot more seriously.
The MSPCA responds to 3,000 complaints a year, Mr. LeBlond said. In the past three years, charges have been brought against 50 defendants in district courts in the state.
“We always talk about the correlation between animal abuse and crimes against people, and now we’ll have the numbers to actually show it,” he said. “It is going to show animal cruelty is a major issue. There are a lot of good police departments investigating and bringing up charges. With the new tracking, other departments will realize it’s a problem. I have eight officers on the street in my department for the entire state. If half the police departments take an interest in animal cruelty, I would have that many more people out there working for animals.”
Additionally, Worcester District Attorney’s Office spokesman Timothy J. Connolly said the DA’s office plans to designate an assistant district attorney and victim advocate with sensitivity toward animals to handle animal cruelty cases in Worcester County. That ADA will have experience prosecuting the cases, he said.
“We want to make sure these cases are prosecuted with some sensitivity,” he said. “We’ll have one person who follows the cases and breaks out to do the cases in other district courts as they come up.”
Karen M. Riley-McNary, director of community intervention for the YWCA in Leominster, said her agency sees the same rates of children as victims as they do violence toward animals. Tracking the data may help further confirm the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence, she said.
“Victims are scared to leave because their pets are at risk if they are not with them,” she said. “They tell them, ‘I will kill the cat, the dog, the horse, the snake .’ It could also be neglect and they say they will just open the door and let them out.”
She said having police departments better track animal cruelty cases may motivate officers to investigate further.
“I think it is a wonderful entry point for someone not seeking support or assistance for themselves,” she said. “If a neighbor calls who witnessed egregious animal cruelty and police investigate, they could find a similar situation inside the home. I’m willing to wager, anyone that is abusing an animal is abusing others in some form or fashion.”
Strangulation, for instance, is frequently practiced on pets, she said, dogs specifically, for the abuser to see how far they can go.
“They want to see how much force it would take to render the dog unconscious versus death,” she said. “There is also a level of fear with the threat, ‘If you leave me, I will kill the pet.’ It is a common form of abuse to abuse the pet as a means of emotionally abusing the survivor.”
Phil S. Arkow is the coordinator for the National Link Coalition, an organization headquartered in New Jersey that tracks data links between animal cruelty and other crimes. He said 70 percent of animal abusers have criminal records.
“Animal abusers are three-and-a-half more times likely to commit other crimes than non-abusers in Massachusetts,” he said. “The traditional thinking is people who abuse animals need to get bigger and bigger thrills and move on to crimes against people. Animal abuse doesn’t always lead to committing other crimes, but it often does. We shouldn’t be surprised when we find a link, but it is easy to say animal abusers go on to become mass murderers and serial killers. That’s an oversimplification. But they could, and sometimes they do.”
“Tracking the data is one of the most important changes in humane law enforcement that we’ve ever seen,” he added. “When we’re trying to get legislators on the state or local level or the general public to understand the importance of animal cruelty, we need to have numbers to show them. We’ve been doing humane law enforcement for 150 years, but we haven’t had any statistics on the state, local or national levels to document the extent of these crimes.
“The second benefit is that in many communities around the country, there are not SPCAs or Humane Societies with authority to investigate animal cruelty,” he said. “And so it usually falls to police or sheriffs to investigate these crimes. Unfortunately, human nature is such that if something is out of sight, it’s out of mind. If the crime doesn’t show up on their checklist, they don’t see it as a priority. This new procedure will change all that.”
Information from: Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Mass.), https://www.telegram.com
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