With one quiet policy change, the federal government has given those who protect animals a powerful new tool for fighting cruelty.
The FBI this year prepares to collect data on animal cruelty crimes through its National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS. NIBRS is a collection of detailed crime statistics that law enforcement agencies from across the country provide to the FBI. Unit Chief Amy Blasher says the Bureau partnered with the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Animal Welfare Institute to make the change.
From now on, 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.”
There will be four categories of crimes: simple or gross neglect, intentional abuse and torture, organized abuse — like dog fighting and cock fighting — and animal sexual abuse.
Animals will be classified as “Group A” offenses, requiring police to report such cases to the FBI as they would other major crimes like assault and murder.
In addition to helping police more effectively allocate resources to combat animal abuse, the data will allow policymakers and researchers to examine cruelty at a national and state-wide scale when the data is made public next year.
The change was made at the urging of the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), who recognize violence against animals as an early indicator of violence against humans.
Last year, a researcher with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) told The Dodo that physical abuse of children was preceded by or concurrent with animal abuse in 90 percent of families studied.
“The change instituted by the FBI formally recognizes the seriousness of animal abuse crimes and their negative impact on the welfare of society, ” said AWI President Cathy Liss. “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.”
What the FBI’s new policy will not do, however, is turn animal abuse into a more serious crime or create a registry of animal abusers. Such changes are typically made by county or state governments, like Tennessee, which became the first state with public registry of animal abusers this month.
According to Washington Post , over the weekend, a YouTube video of an abused dog in Romania reacting to his first time being petted was viewed more than 4 million times. The dog cowers and yelps at the sight of a woman’s hand. When he realizes she’s showing him affection, he nuzzles close and allows her to stroke him.
It’s a devastating reminder of the realities of animal cruelty.