WASHINGTON D.C.–– Federal Bureau of Investigation director James B. Comey on September 17, 2014 announced that the FBI will add cruelty to animals to the national Uniform Crime Report Program as a unique category of offense.
Including crimes against animals in the Uniform Crime Report Program is unlikely to change broad understandings about the nature of such offenses and those who commit them, which have already long been documented by independent researchers and nonprofit organizations.
But the Uniform Crime Report Program data will be more widely recognized as authoritative, and is expected to be more useful in helping law enforcement to identify individual criminal histories, especially among offenders who commit offenses in multiple states.
No longer an “other” offense
Explained an Animal Welfare Institute fact sheet, “Previously, when and if information about animal cruelty crimes was captured in the UCR, the data was relegated to a catchall category entitled ‘All Other Offenses’ and grouped in with a variety of other, mostly minor, crimes. Animal cruelty statistics will now be itemized separately and become available for review and analysis. Animal cruelty crimes will be classified as distinct Group A offenses, joining other major crimes such as arson, assault, and homicide, and will require the reporting of both incidents and arrests. The reported crimes will be categorized as simple/gross neglect; intentional abuse and torture; organized abuse (such as dogfighting and cockfighting); and animal sexual abuse.”
Similar data has been collected for decades by animal charities and concerned individuals, working mostly from media reports. Action-81, founded by Minnesota and Virginia activist Mary Warner, tracked pet theft cases from circa 1974 until her death in 2000.
ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton has tracked mass neglect cases since 1982, and began tracking many other categories of crimes against animals between 1988 and 1992.
Clifton and four Animal Legal Defense Fund volunteers collaborated in 1992 to start a data base on cruelty case sentencing. The initial intent of the 1992 project was to discover the sentencing norms for all types of cruelty in all cases that go to court. Lack of centralized recordkeeping on cruelty cases, even at the county level, however, doomed that approach. Instead, the researchers produced averages of sentences in cases prominent enough to get newspaper coverage, at least locally, and/or to be mentioned in humane media. The project found sharp differences in judicial treatment of crimes against horses, dogs, and cats.
Clifton subsequently used New York, Ohio, and Michigan state crime tracking data to produce a series of studies in 1994-1995 that demonstrated a correlation at the county level between rates of hunting participation, as measured by license sales, and crimes of all types against children. Several other states, including Alaska, California, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia, were not included because at the time they did not track crimes against humans in sufficient detail to distinguish offenses against juveniles from offenses against adults.
Pet-Abuse.com, founded in 2001 by Alison Gionotto, maintains searchable online archives on tens of thousands of animal cruelty and neglect cases, incorporating the data from Clifton’s pre-2005 files, which had been kept on paper, in manila folders. The Pet-Abuse.com reports are perhaps most widely used by animal adoption agencies to screen adoption applicants.
Animal Welfare Institute & HSUS
The Animal Welfare Institute in 2012 produced a prototype for the Uniform Crime Report Program data collection entitled Animal Cruelty Crime Statistics: Findings from a Survey of State Uniform Crime Reporting Programs. The AWI incorporated data from 28 states.
The Pet-Abuse.com resources, in particular, have been extensively used, albeit unofficially, by law enforcemen, chiefly to gather background on suspects. Now, however, the data will be collected through the cooperation of law enforcement.
Posted AWI president Cathy Liss, “The change instituted by the FBI formally recognizes the seriousness of animal abuse crimes and their negative impact on the welfare of society. The data that will become available as a result of this change will help law enforcement better understand and respond to these types of crimes, which occur alongside many other forms of violence and criminal activity.”
Exulted Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, “No longer will extremely violent cases be included in the ‘other offense’ category simply because the victims were animals. Before this, there was no process for capturing animal cruelty data on the statewide or national level. Capturing such data is especially difficult,” Pacelle recognized, “because animal cruelty laws are enforced by a very large number of local police, sheriffs, and humane society agents and animal control officers. With accurate data, law enforcement agencies will be better able to allocate officers and financial resources to handle these cases, track trends and deploy accordingly.”
Animal Legal Defense Fund
Said Scott Heiser, senior attorney and director of the ALDF criminal justice program, “Those of us who champion animal protection have been frustrated that the FBI’s UCR program has not included data related to crimes against animals. However, the key internal committee within the FBI that proposes changes to the UCR program rules recently (and unanimously) passed two resolutions that amend the UCR program to expand its scope to finally include crimes against animals.
“This great outcome is the product the hard work of many,” Heiser acknowledged, “including the Animal Welfare Institute, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. However, this could not have happened without the Herculean efforts of John Thompson, deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association.”
50 years of recommednations
While Liss, Pacelle, and Heiser all recognized more than a dozen years of coordinated lobbying effort by animal advocates, the addition of animal cruelty to the Uniform Crime Report Program actually culminates more than 50 years of recommendations by criminologists, perhaps originating with psychiatrist J.M. Macdonald, whose 1963 paper “The Threat to Kill,” published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, linked cruelty to animals with homicide. Macdonald theorized that more closely tracking and more effectively responding to offenses against animals could both prevent murders and lead to faster apprehension of murder suspects.
The pattern of violence toward animals as precursor of violence toward humans had already long been culturally recognized––depicted, for instance, by the 18th century satirical engraver William Hogarth, by the 19th century novelists Charles Dickens and Mark Twain (among many others), and by U.S. humane movement founders Henry Bergh, George Angell, and Carolyn Earle White.
The link was reinforced by at least 18 major psychological studies between 1959 and 1985. Alan Felthous, M.D., of the University of Texas Medical Branch and Stephen Kellert, Ph.D., of Yale University, for example, captured the attention of law enforcement in 1984-1985 with a series of papers based upon interviews with 152 federal prisoners.
As Felthous and Kellert explained in a paper entitled Cruelty toward Animals among Criminals and Noncriminals, “Childhood cruelty toward animals occurred to a significantly greater degree among aggressive criminals than among nonaggressive criminals or noncriminals.”
Momentum toward adding cruelty to animals to the Uniform Crime Report Program increased after FBI agents John E. Douglas and Robert K. Ressler contributed perspectives to the influential 1992 textbook Sexual Homicide Patterns & Motives.
At the time, however, the FBI was still struggling to fully computerize the Uniform Crime Report Program, and to persuade all states and other law enforcement jurisdictions to fully participate. As of 1985, only four states prosecuted cruelty to animals as a felony offense, regardless of the extent of the cruelty, the numbers of animals involved, and the alleged motivations of the perpetrator. The time was not yet right politically to add another data tracking requirement to the Uniform Crime Report Program.
Earlier in 2014, however, South Dakota became the last of the 50 states to adopt felony penalties for at least some crimes against animals.
J. Edgar Hoover
Mandated by the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services Division “to manage the acquisition, development, and integration of a new information system” for the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the FBI UCR Redevelopment Project at last recommended the cruelty to animals be systematically tracks.
Proposed in 1929 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Uniform Crime Reporting Program was initiated in 1930 by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who had gained a keen understanding of data collection and organization while employed at the Library of Congress from 1913 to 1917.
The UCR today collates data voluntarily submitted by more than 18,000 city, county, state, tribal, academic, and federal law enforcement agencies.
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