Animal welfare activists’ hopes for new ways to fight animal cruelty will be realized in 2015. Or not. According to Stephen G. Fischer, Jr., of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) division, changes are coming in the way the FBI will treat reports of animal cruelty. But the changes will happen slowly. Fischer says that the National Sheriff’s Association and the Animal Welfare Institute had submitted proposals to the FBI, urging the organization to address the crime more aggressively.
“With the Director’s approval,” Fischer said via email, “an Animal Cruelty offense will be added to the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS). It will be a Group A offense and a Crime against Society.” In the acronym-laden patois that defines various activities and attributes of our nation’s criminal justice system, what this means is that data will be collected about animal cruelty.
Fischer said the database will include four specific increments of abuse: simple/gross neglect; intentional abuse and torture; organized abuse such as dog fighting and cock fighting; animal sexual abuse. He also provided the FBI’s working definition of what animal cruelty encompasses:
Cruelty to animals: 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.
So what does this mean to people who are trying to protect animals from abuse? Does any of this have anything to do with enforcement? Will abusers of animals be more likely to be caught and/or punished? All that remains to be seen. The database—NIBRS—created through the voluntary reports of law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, is just that. A database. Reports are submitted electronically, but there is no requirement that local police forces submit data. There are no protocols yet for how, if or whether the FBI will investigate animal cruelty.
Fischer says that the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program will implement changes to the NIBRS “during calendar year 2015, and accept these data January 2016.” Then throughout 2016 the database will be available for local police agencies to upload information about animal cruelty in their jurisdictions.
At the very least, it’s likely that a more comprehensive picture will emerge of the breadth of animal cruelty in the United States. Or it may turn out that this database serves some other purpose that is beyond the grasp of the animal rights groups celebrating what they believe to be a giant leap forward.