What the FBI’s new policy really means for animal abuse

In a victory against animal cruelty, the FBI has begun collecting data on such crimes through its National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The initiative is the result of collaboration between the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Animal Welfare Institute.

Here’s what you need to know about the new policy:


How does the FBI define animal cruelty?
According to its January 2015 Quarterly Report, the government defines it as, “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 torture 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.”

Contrary to some reports, the FBI is not classifying all animal abuse cases as felonies. With its new system, the federal government is recording instances of animal abuse the same way it does arson or assault – that is, specifically, according to different categories. Felony charges and sentencing depend on the state laws of the place where the crime was committed. (See map.)

The abuse cases will be classified into four categories. These include: simple or gross neglect, intentional abuse and torture, organized abuse (like cockfighting and dogfighting), as well as animal sexual abuse. In the past, these offenses were placed into the FBI’s “other crimes” category. This means the bureau will not be able to track previous years’ data, and must start with a fresh record.

Why now? There is evidence that animal abusers are more likely to be perpetrators of domestic violence or violent crime. While the FBI approved the need for the tracking of animal abuse in 2014, it will finally begin the organizational process this year. The bureau will be ready to share its data in 2017, as stated in this FBI podcast.

The bright side. Animal abuse is going to be recorded efficiently and systematically. With this new data on hand, the FBI will be able to track crimes committed against animals and identify high-risk areas within the country. In the process, more human lives will potentially be saved as well.

Tracking animal abuse is just the beginning of the fight against cruelty. Get more information and find out how you can help here.


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The Society of Animal Welfare Administrators (SAWA) is a community of professionals committed to excellence in the management and operation of animal welfare and control organizations.


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