(Photo: David Gray/Reuters)

FBI Classifies Animal Abuse as a ‘Crime Against Society’

Law enforcement officials liken animal torture and neglect to murder and arson to gain insight into other human wrongdoing.
Sep 25, 2014· 2 MIN READ
John R. Platt covers the environment, wildlife, and technology and for TakePart, Scientific American, Audubon, and other publications.

Animals have a new ally: the FBI.

The agency announced this week that it will start tracking all forms of animal abuse under its regularly updated Uniform Crime Report, which provides national statistics on some of the worst kinds of crimes. The move, which reclassifies animal abuse as a “crime against society,” puts it on the same level of offense as murder, drug trafficking, arson, and assault and will allow law enforcement agencies and other organizations to better understand the volume and nature of these crimes so they can better allocate resources.

The FBI will now track four types of animal abuse: simple or gross neglect; intentional abuse and torture; organized abuse, such as dogfighting or cockfights; and animal sexual abuse, according to FBI spokesperson Stephen G. Fischer Jr. Previously these crimes were lumped in under the broad category of “all other offenses.”

Here’s what the FBI considers animal cruelty:

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.

The FBI said it would take 2015 to implement the necessary changes to the National Incident Based Reporting System, which is used by law enforcement agencies around the country to report local incidents and arrests. Fischer said the FBI would then start collecting animal-abuse data in January 2016. After that, the data will become part of the regular crime statistics reports released by the FBI on an annual basis.

So what’s behind the FBI’s newfound puppy love? The National Sheriffs’ Association, for one. The group considers better statistics about animal abuse an important way to understand other crimes, including domestic violence and officer-dog encounters.

“Collecting this data will enable law enforcement agencies and researchers to understand the factors associated with animal abuse,” said Amey Owen, public relations coordinator at Animal Welfare Institute, which, along with the sheriffs’ association, has advocated for better animal-cruelty crime-reporting statistics for the past 12 years.

The statistics, Owen said, will reveal the characteristics of abuse perpetrators as well as when and where the crimes took place.

“With this information, law enforcement will be able to better track trends, plan policies, and allocate resources for intervention efforts with respect to both animal cruelty and those crimes for which animal cruelty serves as a marker,” she said.

Owen noted that much violence against humans is closely linked to animal abuse. For example, studies have found that animal abuse and domestic abuse are closely aligned.

John Goodwin, director of animal cruelty policy for the Humane Society of the United States, said the updated Uniform Crime Report would fill an information void.

“Organizations such as ours try to keep track of various categories of animal-cruelty crime through news clips and through contacts we have in various jurisdictions, but nobody has the means to do it in a very thorough way,” he said. “The FBI is the only entity that could do it to this scale. Now they’re going to start doing it.”