ANIMAL WATCH--On January 1, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will begin recording all animal-abuse crimes reported by local law-enforcement agencies to its national database as “top-tier”—placing them on the same level as arson, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking and murder, rather than grouping them into the “other offenses” category.
This great news was disclosed earlier this year when the FBI announced that it was re-categorizing crimes against animals as "crimes against society.” The animal crimes that were regrouped to Part 1 offenses are intentional abuse and torture, gross neglect, sexual abuse and organized abuse, which includes dog fighting.
Does this mean we can now call the FBI instead of LA Animal Services to report an animal being beaten or starved or a staged cockfight or dog fight in progress next door?
Unfortunately, many reports by the media and enthusiastic animal activists have been misleading. In a desperate desire to believe there is a panacea to end animal suffering, someone even commented that this decision by the FBI signals an “end to animal cruelty, because the federal government is now in charge."
So that we do not have unrealistic expectations and—more importantly--so that this FBI decision does not become a diversion from holding local agencies accountable for responding to reports of animal cruelty or neglect and for prosecuting all such crimes, it is important to accept that this change by the FBI in how animal crimes are categorized is just that. It is merely a step up in existing reporting methods.
It signifies an important new recognition at the federal level of the importance of crimes against animals—including both abuse and intentional neglect. It also indicates that the Feds are undergoing a change in attitude that mirrors the societal shift to consider pets as family members and violence against animals to be as egregious as violence against humans.
What it does NOT mean is that all animal cruelty has suddenly become a federal crime, John Sibley explains in The Myth of the FBI and Animal Cruelty. It does NOT mean that there will automatically be a change in how animal crimes are prosecuted or that sentences will become harsher. It also does NOT mean that the FBI will now become involved in local cases—other than those that include violations of federal law.
FBI stats capture statistical data, not individual identities of perpetrators or those accused of crimes. This means that the reports will also NOT be of help to shelters in making adoption decisions.
Wayne Pacelle of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) describes the importance of this recognition on A Humane Nation blog:
“The proper identification of animal cruelty crimes in the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program, once in effect, like the tracking of hate crimes and other important categories, would be national in scope. Within the FBI system, every incident would be reported, whether or not it results in an arrest or conviction…Having proper data on where and with what frequency cruelty is occurring would help guide lawmakers on policy decisions and law enforcement and nonprofit agencies on allocation of scarce resources.”
The FBI currently tracks animal cruelty crimes in the 32 states which report their stats to the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS.)
Since not all states are certified and participating in this database, the federal report is not a complete profile of criminal activity nationwide. Unfortunately, California is not listed as a reporting state at this time. Thus, crimes against local animals will not add to the database which will help the federal government and non-profits determine were more resources are needed.
According to the FBI, the official definition of animal cruelty will be:
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. Included are instances of duty to provide care, e.g., shelter, food, water, care if sick or injured, transporting or confining an animal in a manner likely to cause injury or death; causing an animal to fight with another; inflicting excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering, e.g., using objects to beat or injure an animal. This definition does not include proper maintenance of animals for show or sport; use of animals for food, lawful hunting, fishing or trapping.
The FBI has finally validated what animal lovers have long known--that animal crimes, whether solitary or organized, have a significant impact on society. However, we cannot allow this validation to lull us into silence or apathy. It must motivate us to even more vigorously report any suspicion, indication or evidence of neglect, violent or otherwise abusive behavior, abandonment, lack of food, water or adequate shelter, chaining, hoarding, animal fighting, or any mistreatment of any animal.
Owning any animal imposes a legal level of care on every owner. Owning a dog in the City of Los Angeles is a privilege, not a right. It requires a license and that certain specific standards of care and attention are met. No training, discipline or punishment may be done in such a manner that the animal is harmed.
Too often, caring observers wait until an animal is visibly injured to call L.A. Animal Services to do a welfare check. That may be too late for the victim. It is not enough to talk to neighbors and friends. Animal Control Officers have the powers and know the legal procedure for addressing issues with owners and/or entering a property to act on behalf of the animal.
Do not give up—continue to call and report any activity in which an animal (or a human) is endangered. Contact the City Council or Mayor, if necessary. If it is important to the FBI, it should be important to them.
If you see something, say something!
(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com. She lives in Los Angeles.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 105
Pub: Dec 29, 2015