In 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will begin collecting data on animal abuse across the country, which will help give activists and researchers a better understanding of how to prevent animal cruelty.
“The agency will collect information on reports of animal abuse as well as arrests and convictions,” notes Mary Lou Randour, senior adviser for animal cruelty programs and training at the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, D.C. “The FBI will be recording every incident,” she adds. The Animal Welfare Institute, along with the National Sheriffs’ Association, has been pushing for the expanded data collection.
The FBI said in a statement that it is adding a separate Animal Cruelty offense category to its National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) comprised of four types of animal abuse:
– Simple/gross neglect
– Intentional abuse and torture
– Organized abuse (dog fighting and cock fighting)
– Animal sexual abuse
The FBI defines cruelty to animals 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. 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., uses 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.”
Randour says the FBI now considers animal abuse a Group A offense, which means all reports of animal abuse made to police will be included in the NIBRS. Starting in January, police departments across the country will be required to report animal-related crimes to the national database, according to the FBI.
Education and Intervention
The Animal Welfare Institute will use the data collected to see where animal abuse crimes are committed most and by what age groups in order to design appropriate and effective education and intervention programs, says Randour. Data collected will include the alleged animal abuser’s location, age, race, ethnicity, and the type of weapon used, if any, she adds.
The FBI’s expanded scope of data collection on animal abuse is “one of the most dynamic and significant changes ever,” says Phil Arkow, founder of the National Link Coalition based in Stratford, NJ, which conducts research, training and education on the link between animal abuse and human violence.
“The new data will help activists and researchers give legislators a better understanding of the prevalence and nature of animal abuse,” Arkow says. “Collecting information about animal abuse incidents is also important because many cases of animal cruelty do not involve police charges.”
Animal cruelty has been traditionally minimized by law enforcement because it doesn’t involve people being hurt, says Arkow. But now, animal abuse can no longer be trivialized and considered in isolation to other crimes, he notes.
According to the National Link Coalition, “When animals are abused, people are at risk; when people are abused, animals are at risk.” Animal cruelty and neglect is too often “the tip of the iceberg” because the way animals are treated in a family is linked to family dynamics and domestic violence, states the National Link Coalition. Further, research has shown that serial killers and mass murders often have histories of animal abuse. According to Psychology Today, “Animal abuse is often the first sign of serious disturbance among adolescent and adult killers.” PETA echoes the horrifying foundation that “Research in psychology and criminology shows that people who commit acts of cruelty to animals don’t stop there—many of them move on to their fellow humans.”
The FBI data collection change follows Tennessee’s creation of the first state registry of convicted animal abusers. The state registry differs from the new FBI data collection policy in that the state will only collect information on individuals convicted of an animal abuse offense. Tennessee’s online database goes live on Jan. 1, 2016.