U.S. Justice Department Now Tracking Animal Cruelty Nationwide

January 12, 2016

U.S. Justice Department Now Tracking Animal Cruelty Nationwide

Starting this month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is tracking crimes against animals as “Group A Offenses” akin to major felonies like arson, homicide and kidnapping. Police departments across the nation now are expected to report these offenses to the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), the FBI’s database for collecting and tracking information on criminal activity.

The NIBRS accepted reports of animal abuse prior to January 2016, but these crimes were not given their own unique category; instead, they were lumped in with a variety of other miscellaneous crimes considered to be lesser offenses. This lack of cohesive data made it impossible for those who use the system—such as criminologists, law enforcement and researchers—to accurately gauge the frequency of these crimes or track their outcomes.

“The question I am asked most frequently is ‘Is animal cruelty on the rise?’” says Dr. Randall Lockwood, Senior Vice President for Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects at the ASPCA. “In the future, we will hopefully be able to answer that question and evaluate the effectiveness of efforts to combat animal abuse and neglect.”

Law enforcement agencies and the animal welfare community have long been aware of the link between animal cruelty and crimes against people; abuse of an animal is often an indicator or predictor of future violent acts. Tracking incidents of animal cruelty in a more systemic, comprehensive and thoughtful manner will allow for early intervention and could help prevent escalations in violence. It also sends a strong signal to all local law enforcement agencies that animal cruelty is a serious crime worth investigating and prosecuting.

The ASPCA is a major supporter of the National Link Coalition, which teamed up with the National Sheriffs’ Association and other organizations to lobby the FBI for this change in crime reporting.

“The immediate benefit is it will be in front of law enforcement every month when they have to do their crime reports,” says John Thompson, National Sheriffs’ Association Deputy Executive Director. “That's something we have never seen before. This will provide data and facts to law enforcement.”

According to the FBI, under the new method, reports of animal-related incidents will be divided into four categories: neglect; intentional abuse and torture; organized abuse such as dog fighting and cockfighting; and animal sexual abuse.

Although it will likely take five to 10 years before there is enough data to analyze trends, we are grateful that the U.S. Department of Justice, of which the FBI is a part, has committed to treating animal cruelty-related crimes with the seriousness that they deserve.