Recognizing the link between animal cruelty and acts of violence against humans, the FBI has started tracking animal abusers nationwide the way it tracks domestic violence, arson, assault, and homicide. It has made animal cruelty a Group A felony, on par with homicide, arson, and assault. This new policy is likely to help protect both animals and people, and represents a shift toward humane treatment of animals.
Research has repeatedly demonstrated that animal cruelty is often a precursor to violence against humans. Tracking animal abuse perpetrators will help law enforcement to better understand and respond to animal abuse, and help prevent violence against people and animals. The majority of serial killers and school shooters, for example, abuse animals prior to turning on humans.
In the past, animal abuse records were thrown into a broader category with no ability to track the abusers. Now that incidents are tracked, police chiefs and law enforcement are given the data to identify abusers and change the way they police their community.
“Documented research is clear and long-standing, but most law enforcement agencies haven’t acted on it,” says John Thompson, Deputy Executive Director of the National Sheriffs’ Association, who worked to institute the new animal cruelty category. “The documented data is there, and it’s not just guesswork. The immediate benefit [of the new policy] is that it will be in front of law enforcement every month when they have to do their crime reports. That’s something we have never seen.”
Thompson said that translating the link between animal cruelty and violence against humans into enforcement is likely to be similar to the trajectory of domestic violence in the early 70s, when law enforcement was initially perplexed about why the abused woman didn’t just leave. “We didn’t understand the dynamics of domestic violence,” states Thompson, “and as that understanding changed, things got better. Animal abuse is going to follow the same timeline. For this problem to be solved you have to get the legislators to create the laws, law enforcement to enforce the laws, prosecutors to prosecute, and judges to convict.”
Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, states that there will be “a real incentive for law enforcement agencies to pay closer attention to [animal abuse],” and will allow those agencies to better “allocate officers and financial resources to handle these cases, track trends and deploy accordingly.”
While this new FBI policy is focused on tracking animal abusers and not on prosecuting them yet, it is a promising harbinger that stronger animal abuse laws and enforcement will come to pass.