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The FBI Is Now Keeping Track of Crimes Against Animals

FBI Tracks Animal Abuse Reports

Story at-a-glance -

  • On January 1, 2016, the FBI began collecting data on animal abuse reports as well as related arrests and convictions
  • Animal abuse has been made a “group A” offense alongside arson, rape, kidnapping, extortion, theft, homicide and other crimes
  • The data will be used to design education and intervention programs to help stop animal abuse and track incidents that may be precursors to crimes against humans

By Dr. Becker

People who commit animal abuse will now have a record with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). On January 1, 2016, the FBI began collecting data on animal abuse reports as well as related arrests and convictions.

The FBI has also added an Animal Abuse category to its National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) and made it a “Group A” offense.

The NIBRS is an incident-based reporting system in which police report detailed information about crimes and their surrounding circumstances (including the offenses, characteristics of the victims and offenders, people arrested in connection with the incident and more).

Other Group A offenses include arson, rape, kidnapping, extortion, theft and homicide. By making animal abuse a Group A offense, it means every incident reported to police will be inputted into the NIBRS. Further, as of January 2016, all U.S. police departments are required to report animal abuse to the NIBRS.

Organizations such as The Animal Welfare Institute and the National Sheriffs’ Association have been vocal proponents of the move.

Mary Lou Randour, Ph.D. senior adviser for animal cruelty programs and training at the Animal Welfare Institute, who lobbied the FBI for years to make animal abuse its own offense category, told the Washington Post:1

"These are creatures that suffer and we know their capacity to suffer … In most societies it’s recognized that creatures that are dependent on others, whether the elderly or children or animals, need to be protected.”

Four Categories of Animal Abuse

According to the FBI, animal cruelty is defined 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."2

Unfortunately, the FBI’s definition does not include animals used for show or sport, provided they’re properly maintained, or animals used for food, even though some of the greatest animal abuses occur among livestock.

Prior to the new policy shift, if law enforcement officials reported animal-abuse crimes to the NIBRS they had to categorize them in the “All Other Offenses” category. Now police will have four distinct categories to choose from:

  • Simple/gross neglect
  • Intentional abuse and torture
  • Organized abuse (such as dogfighting and cockfighting)
  • Animal sexual abuse

Animal Abuse Is Linked to Violent Crimes Against People

The Animal Welfare Institute plans to use the NIBRS data to track where animal abuse is most likely to occur, and among what age groups. The hope is that they can then design education and intervention programs to help stop the abuse. Aside being a big win for animals, the move may help prevent human crimes too.

Phil Arkow, founder of the National Link Coalition, which studies the link between animal abuse and crimes against humans, told Pet360:3

"The new data will help activists and researchers give legislators a better understanding of the prevalence and nature of animal abuse … Collecting information about animal abuse incidents is also important because many cases of animal cruelty do not involve police charges."

By collecting such data, the FBI is hoping to gain a “more complete picture of the nature of cruelty to animals.” One of the items they’re looking at is whether cruelty to animals is a precursor to larger crimes, as many studies have suggested. According to the FBI:4

“The [National Sheriffs’] Association for years has cited studies linking animal abuse and other types of crimes — most famously, murders committed by serial killers like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the ‘Son of Sam’ killer David Berkowitz.

The organization also points out the overlap animal abuse has with domestic violence and child abuse.

‘If somebody is harming an animal, there is a good chance they also are hurting a human,’ said John Thompson, deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association. ‘If we see patterns of animal abuse, the odds are that something else is going on.’”

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Tennessee Creates First Animal Abuser Registry

The FBI’s policy change occurred nearly in tandem with another win for animals in Tennessee. The state became the first to create an online registry of convicted animal abusers, which became accessible to the public on January 1, 2016.5

The registry is not retroactive, meaning only individuals convicted of animal abuse after January 1 will be included, but it’s a major step forward to protecting animals. For starters, animal shelters will be able to check the registry prior to adopting out animals. Ten other states also introduced bills to establish an animal abuser registry, although only Tennessee’s has been passed to date.

Previously Abused Animals Need Loving Homes

The first NIBRS animal cruelty statistics will be available in 2017, although it’s expected to be three to five years before any meaningful patterns emerge. Further, only about 31 percent of the U.S. is represented by NIBRS; the FBI hopes to make NIBRS the primary method of data collection by 2021.6

The move is a significant step forward for animal welfare. Just a decade ago, when Randour first suggested the FBI collect animal abuse data, it was brushed off as trivial.7 Today, if you’d like to make a difference in the life of an abused animal and you have the room in your home and your heart for a pet, consider adopting and rehabilitating a previously abused pet.