The FBI is about to label animal cruelty as a 'crime against society'
That link has been shown to be strong enough that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is going to start specifically tracking animal cruelty in 2016.
The reports will be part of its Uniform Crime Report National Incident-Based Reporting System, a program that collects data from law enforcement agencies around the country in order to provide national statistics on all kinds of criminal activity.The National Sheriffs' Association and the Animal Welfare Institute partnered to push the FBI to start collecting reports on animal-related crimes, and Bureau officials thought it made sense.
There's evidence that "animal cruelty [can be] an early indicator of violent crime, and that's really what led the discussions with our law enforcement partners throughout the country," FBI Unit Chief Amy Blasher explained in January 2015 on an FBI news podcast.
The program was first approved in 2014, but implementing it has taken some time. Beginning in January of 2016, the FBI will actually start collecting the data. Results will be available to the public a year after that.
The Uniform Crime Report group spent the past year preparing law enforcement around the country to report information on four different categories of abuse: intentional abuse or torture; organized abuse, such as dogfighting; simple or gross neglect; and animal sexual abuse. All will be categorized as "crimes against society," as opposed to crimes against people or property. They're also all considered "Group A" offenses in the database, a category that also includes homicide, arson, kidnapping, and narcotics offenses.
As Animal Welfare Institute senior advisor Mary Lou Randour explained to the Baltimore Sun, collecting this data is an essential first step to both understanding these crimes in the first place and to using data on these crimes to monitor individuals for potential future violence.
"There was no way to find out how often [this abuse] occurs, where it occurs, and whether it was on the increase," Randour told the Sun.
A predictor of violenceThere's a large body of research on the correlations between violent crime and animal abuse, collected by groups including the Humane Society and the National Link Coalition, a group that tracks the connection between cruelty towards animals and other violence, especially domestic violence, child maltreatment, and elder abuse.
As the Humane Society notes, studies have shown that violence against animals is common among serial killers, is a red flag for domestic abuse, and is a frequent offense for other violent offenders, according to a study by the Chicago Police Department, which found that 65% of people arrested for animal cruelty had also been arrested for battery. Another study on a small sample of people found that 37% of animal abusers had committed other violent crimes, compared to 7% of controls.
While some scientists have questioned the way some of this data has been analyzed, the evidence of a clear link is growing.
"There is substantial evidence pointing to the very important role that a pattern of abusive behaviour toward animals can play in raising the alarm that other criminal behaviours are likely occurring in the same environment," wrote Eleonora Gullone, a psychologist at Monash University, in a recent review on the topic. "Our need for action is currently greater than our need for more research."
While none of this means that everyone who abuses animals will be a serial killer or a violent criminal, it's hard to deny the disturbing correlation between the willingness to hurt an animal and the willingness to hurt other people.
Baltimore County prosecutor Adam Lippe explained it to the Sun in simple terms.
"In animal abuse, you have total power over the animal," he told Sun reporter Alison Knezevich. "If you're willing to exert that in a cruel, malicious and vicious way, then you're likely to do that to people, too, who don't have power, like children and vulnerable adults. It's an issue of a lack of empathy."