Taking a bite out of animal crime

Forensic evidence plays a major role in bringing animal abusers to justice


     Although in many states, animals are viewed as property, Respess urges officers to keep in mind they are living breathing creatures. "Remember, if suspects have little regard for animals, they likely have limited concern for people," she says.

     It's a known fact — one supported by FBI statistics — that nearly all serial killers abused animals before they progressed to murdering human beings, says Amato. "The Columbine kids — animal abusers; David Berkowitz — animal abuser; Jeffrey Dahmer — animal abuser," he says. "I could go on and on. These people all abused and tortured animals before they went on to bigger and better things." He purports that if police had stopped these killers at a young age, their crimes may not have escalated to such grisly deeds.

     While murder tops the list of potential outcomes, there also remains a strong connection between animal cruelty and other crimes. In 90 percent of the cases Merck assists with, law enforcement affects arrests for illegal possession of drugs or guns, or outstanding rape, kidnapping or armed robbery charges. And, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence statistics cite that 71 percent of individuals entering domestic violence shelters report their batterer injured, maimed, threatened or killed family pets. Maddox says the National Cruelty Investigations School views animal abuse as an important crime in criminal justice because of this correlation. The program examines the association in great detail and directs participants to search for signs of animal abuse when indications of domestic abuse exist, and vice versa.

     Drug crimes and animal cruelty also seem to go hand in hand, adds Schindler. While working as a senior officer and field supervisor for the Washington, D.C., Humane Society, Schindler paired with the police department's drug enforcement task force. He recalls many situations where his organization provided police with suspect information and helped obtain arrest warrants. "When I go on raids, we often come across large amounts of drugs and money," he says. "That might be an open door for police. It can be easier to get a warrant for the dogs than to get a warrant on drugs."

     With these connections in mind, animal cruelty cannot and should not be ignored. As Amato says, "A crime is a crime, whether directed at a child or an animal, and must be viewed as such."

Training to protect the animals

     The following lists just some of the animal cruelty investigations training available:

     • The Humane Society of the United States offers animal cruelty and animal fighting training to law enforcement officers. The programs, taught nationwide, are done on site with a hosting agency. Information on the courses can be found at: http://www.humanesocietyu.org/workshops_and_classes/iaf_main_page.html

     The National Cruelty Investigations School, presented by the Law Enforcement Training Institute and Code 3, offers four course levels designed to give law enforcement increased training in animal cruelty topics. The first three courses each span 40 hours over five days, and cover topics ranging from animal law, search and seizure, written and photographic documentation, family violence, ritual animal abuse, animal hoarding and more. Students passing Levels I-III receive certification as a Certified Humane Investigator. Level IV is an evolving curriculum designed to keep participants abreast of changing techniques and technologies in animal cruelty investigations. For more information call(800) 825-6505.

ASPCA unleashes animal CSI unit

     The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has unleashed a roving crime scene unit, fully equipped with state-of-the-art forensic tools and medical equipment to help collar animal abusers.

     The mobile crime scene investigation lab is a resource to tap into when hoping to bust puppy mills and dog fighting rings through forensic science. The vehicle is manned by the nation's top forensic veterinarian, Dr. Melinda Merck, who says the unit "advances the investigation and prosecution of animal cruelty by bringing veterinary forensics to areas where it might not otherwise be available."

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