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Monday, December 10, 2007

Animal Cruelty Needs to be Tracked

Today, NFL quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison for his part in a multi-state dogfighting ring.  While animal fighting is an organized form of animal cruelty—with promoters, breeders, trainers, spectators, and bettors forming an underground crime syndicate—individual acts of cruelty are just as horrible.  We have all seen the news reports and heard the shocking stories of people who put pets in microwaves, throw them off balconies, drag them with cars, set them on fire, beat them, stab them, or kill them or maim them in other sickening ways. Crimes against animals are so much in the spotlight that they’ve been featured on “America’s Most Wanted” and have warranted a regular series in the “National Enquirer.”

As a society, we are treating such acts of cruelty with more gravity than ever before.  All 50 states have anti-cruelty laws, and 43 now provide felony-level penalties for malicious acts toward animals. During the 1980s, in developing profiles of serial killers, the FBI’s Behavioral Crime Unit discovered that all serial killers had engaged in repeated acts of animal cruelty. Further decades of research have illustrated the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence.  One recent study found that pet abuse could predict who would become a batterer. We now know childhood animal cruelty is associated with the persistence of anti-social, aggressive behavior.

It stands to reason, then, that the more our law enforcement agencies know about people who are cruel to animals, the more they can do to prevent those same people from committing other violent crimes. But it’s the FBI’s crime data reporting system—including the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the National Incident-Based Reporting System, and the yet-to-be released Law Enforcement National Data Exchange (N-DEx)—that drives the collection of crime statistics by police agencies around the country. The system currently does not list cruelty to animals as a separate offense category, and local police agencies do not have a place in their reporting forms to enter animal cruelty crimes. The result is that these crimes are assigned to miscellaneous categories, and no information on animal cruelty can be retrieved, studied, and used to guide law enforcement agents and lawmakers on the allocation of resources or policy development.

This will hopefully change, as Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) today introduced the Tracking Animal Cruelty Crimes Act of 2007 (S. 2439) which would add animal cruelty as a separate offense category in the FBI’s crime data reporting system. Sen. Menendez has been a longtime advocate for animals, and in 2000, when he served in the House of Representatives, he led the successful effort for a new law requiring airlines to track incidents involving the safety of pets traveling in cargo holds. He was joined today in introducing the animal cruelty tracking bill by Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).  In the House of Representatives, Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) have been leading the charge for this important change.

It’s an accepted principle that those who are kind to animals are also kind to people, and those who are cruel to animals are a threat to society and may commit other violent crimes.  Having the ability to track animal cruelty cases anywhere in the country is a long overdue step that would not only help animals, but would also give law enforcement agencies the tools they need to prevent violent offenders from escalating their terrible behavior. Congress should quickly pass Sen. Menendez’s anti-crime bill, for the sake of animals, and for public safety and security in our communities.   

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