FBI to release animal cruelty data

Animal cruelty is now categorized as a felony and the FBI tracks data from police and animal control officers that could shed light on crimes against people

Credit: The Humane Society of the United States
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The FBI is about to release more than a year of animal cruelty data that law enforcement officers have entered into the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).

Police and animal control officers in some areas have recorded animal cruelty incidents since 2015 when they were reclassified from a misdemeanor to a felony, making it a serious criminal offense to harm an animal.

Former FBI Director James Comey agreed to make animal cruelty a separate, reportable category of crime in 2014, a win for both law enforcement and animal advocates.

“Animal cruelty co-occurs with child abuse and the domestic violence and the other types of crime,” said Mary Lou Randour, an analyst at The Animal Welfare Institute.

The move came after Randour, a Washington, D.C., animal rights activist teamed with the National Sheriff’s Association of Alexandria, Virginia, to form an unlikely alliance. Together they lobbied the FBI to track animal cruelty as a separate, reportable category by highlighting research that linked it to human crimes.

As an analyst and psychologist who studies the link between animal and human abuse, Randour said the research shows “overwhelmingly convincing” evidence that animal cruelty is linked to other types of crime.

“The evidence on the link between animal abuse and violence against humans is there.”

Credit: American Psychological Association. Mary Lou Randour sits with her dog, Sabrina.

The Humane Society reports that the Chicago Police Department gathered statistics on people who had hurt companion animals and found “a startling propensity for offenders charged with crimes against animals to commit other violent offenses toward human victims.”

The Denver Post reported that the 2017 Texas church mass shooter, Devin Kelley, 26, was cited for animal cruelty on Aug. 1, 2014, by El Paso County police. This was just one month before the FBI made animal abuse a felony crime.

Kelley was cited for beating a dog with his fists, according to a Huffington Post report that also said he bought dogs on Craigslist to use for target practice. The Washington Post reported that the Air Force court marshaled Kelley and sentenced him to a Navy brig in San Diego for abusing his wife and toddler stepson between 2011-2012.

A Violence Against Women Report in 2007 showed, “Women residing at domestic violence shelters were nearly 11 times more likely to report that their partner had hurt or killed pets than a comparison group of women who said they had not experienced intimate violence.”

“The evidence on the link between animal abuse and violence against humans is there,” said John Thompson, deputy director of the National Sheriffs’ Association.

Both Thompson and Randour submitted proposals to the FBI in 2013 to include animal cruelty as a separate category within the NIBRS crime data system. Randour said the process of moving through several committees was “complicated.”

“John basically steered it through,” Randour said.

Credit: The Humane Society of the United States. John Thompson, National Sheriff’s Association deputy executive director, with Mr. Po, his dog.

Thompson said it was his daughter, and not his 40-year career in public safety, who showed him the link between animal and human crime. She asked him to read an essay she wrote that linked animal cruelty to other types of violence. The essay peaked his interest and he researched on his own, “staying up late at night, tears coming out of my eyes.”

“All those kids started shooting animals before they shot humans.”

Thompson said he was shocked at the evidence linking animal abuse and human abuse and decided to bring together law enforcement officers and animal advocates.

“All those kids started shooting animals before they shot humans,” Thompson said, referring to school shooters in Columbine, Colorado, and Pearl, Mississippi, in the 1990s.

Luke Woodham was 16-years-old when he shot and killed two people and injured seven at Peal High School in 1997. Before the shootings, Woodham stabbed his mother to death and tortured and killed the family dog.

Now that the FBI lists animal cruelty as a reportable felony in its database, the challenge for Thompson and Randour is to get officers at the nation’s approximately 18,000 police agencies to report what they see. They are working on education and outreach to make officers aware that animal cruelty is now part of NIBRS and to encouraged them to investigate and report animal cruelty crimes.

The FBI has not yet reported on animal crimes entered into its NIBRS system in 2015-2016, so it’s difficult to know how many officers are imputing animal cruelty incidents into the database.

“We have the data capacity now but you have to get people to put the data in,” Randour said.

She said the data needs to be collected and pushed through the FBI system before it becomes useful to law enforcement, social scientists, journalists and policymakers.

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