Webinar presenters Dr. Mary Lou Randour and Dan DeSousa answered a number of your questions after their presentation, "Animal Cruelty Reporting: What Law Enforcement and Justice Professionals Need to Know." Here are a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Do you think the concept or finding animal cruelty or abuse being linked is being more widely accepted across the justice system? Or is there still more work and convincing to be done there?
Dr. Mary Lou Randour: No matter what the issue is, there is always more to be done. When the FBI recognized animal cruelty as being so significant that they put it into Group A of NIBRS that was an important step. The NSA, I know they have formed a National Animal Abuse Unit. I think that the criminal justice system is definitely recognizing the importance and we're moving in the right direction.
Dan DeSousa: I think a lot of that goes back to just our perception and understanding of what an animal is to us nowadays. You'll still find some agencies that like, "It's just a dog, I don't care", but to a lot of people that dog is a part of the family as I mentioned. I think we're holding animals in a little bit higher regard than we used to a long time ago. We still do have our work cut out for us. There's still going to be people that will say, "It's just a dog, I don't care." But with the connections that we've demonstrated here, animal abuse and domestic violence, child abuse, things like that… That's what we need to do and push that message forward. This has to come from the animal control officers and HLE at the bottom, from the communities, the upper echelons of law enforcement. We all need to take this and run with it and understand the need to capture animal cruelty data.
Audience Question: For the sake of statistics and the studies that were conducted and how we're categorizing or classifying, it seems like we're using animals and pets interchangeably. Are they considered the same, or do we differentiate at different points in time?
Dr. Mary Lou Randour: Many of the research studies talk about pets. When they interview domestic violence victims and want to know is their abuser threatened their pet. But other times, they are any animal. For example, there are studies done where they ask people, have you ever abused an animal? And that could be a pet, a wild animal, farm animal. It depends on the particular study but it includes both.
Audience Question: Do most local police stations know that they have the option of reporting cruelty to the FBI? How well has that information been disseminated?
Dan DeSousa: The challenge being a lot of local law enforcement do not know that they have the ability to report. Even if they are already reporting NIBRS up to the UCR, the question that they need to ask is — Do you have the newest version of NIBRS that captures the 720 code. They may be reporting it but they don't have the newest model and therefore they aren't really reporting. This comes back to an education, communication and collaboration issue. We've worked very closely with the NSA to really start driving this message. It has to come from the upper echelons of the local law enforcement, the FBI, NSA, the Police Officers' Association, anything like that. And also from the bottom — the Animal Control Agency to say, "Hey, do you know that you have a crucial role in this?"
Dr. Mary Lou Randour: Our message is make friends with their local law enforcement agencies.
Audience Question: Are the NIBRS forms readily available through a software that can be updated on to an iPad or a tablet?
Dan DeSousa: The form right now is a fillable PDF. So yeah, you can load that on just about anything.
Audience Question: Is Code 3 teaching the NIBRS data reporting information?
Dr. Mary Lou Randour: No, not yet.
Dan DeSousa: The answer is no, but that is an avenue that we can do for their National Animal Control Humane Officer (NACHO) training classes. NACA has a role as well as the animal welfares. The more people that we can get doing the training and providing the training is going to be a good thing.
Audience Question: Would it be helpful to write grants to an able ACO and HLEs or other law enforcement to get the technology to make it easier to input, transfer the data, etcetera on to computer format?
Dan DeSousa: Can we just say yes?
Dr. Mary Lou Randour: Yes.
Dan DeSousa: Like I mentioned, we need to make it as easy as possible for the animal control and HLE. If they already have a database that they're using, ideally, it is best to modify that database to capture everything that they need. I don't need them going through their one database and having to flip over to another thing and type something there. There is definitely work to be done in that realm.
Audience Question: What are the chances of getting more ACOs and HLEs to be trained and certified as law enforcement officers, such as getting jurisdictions to change the way they do things?
Dan DeSousa: That is going to be a locality-specific kind of thing. Me as an ACO, I do have the powers of law enforcement. I can effectuate arrest, I can serve a search warrant. I'm not a peace officer by definition but I do have the powers of a peace officer. That is something that got to come from the local animal control — how to work with your state and communities to gain more of those powers.
Dr. Mary Lou Randour: That's definitely been discussed increasingly. Should animal control be more uniformly located within law enforcement? Again, it's a state/local issue.
Audience Question: Would the witness detailed description of an incident go into the narrative portion of the form?
Dan DeSousa: No, the witness portion would just be filled out. You don't need to put anything in the narrative. You can put, "I responded and met with Jane Doe, Jane Doe's information is captured in the witness section." That would be the easiest way to do it.
Audience Question: What kind of collaboration has been established among restorative practices and punitive programs to work together with young offenders as they do with the school to prison pipeline?
Dr. Mary Lou Randour: Yes, I know in Chicago, there are programs where they pair young offenders — some of whom incarcerated, some are not — with shelter dogs. The pairing is meant to accomplish something for both sides. For the animal and the young offender. The young offender learns skills, how to use positive and negative reinforcement to shape behavior, and to feel good about themselves. The dogs who often come from shelters are better trained – and because they're better trained, they are more adoptable. That has been in the increase. I know, for example, I'm involved with SPCA in LA, they have a program like that and I think we will see more and more programs like that. As a psychologist, that's my goal – to rehabilitate and prevent abuse from recurring. A young offender that's committing animal abuse is not only causing harm but they have probably been harmed themselves, and they need help too.
Audience Question: Are there studies to indicate the rationale by which a DV offender might hurt a pet?
Dr. Mary Lou Randour: I think there's a uniformity of opinion that the reason they do it is because DV offenders wanted to control and coerce behavior, to manipulate. The pet is often loved by other people in the household so they use that to intimidate and manipulate them — to keep them silent or do their bidding.
Audience Question: If only law enforcement can report incidents to the FBI, does that include animal control officers and humane officers that have full law enforcement authority when it comes to animal welfare laws — at least in California?
Dan DeSousa: I know of one animal control agency in California that actually has their own ORI number. I haven't still figured out how in the world they got that. Ideally, we report our own information up to the UCR. Mary Lou and I gave a presentation a month ago in Colorado Springs with all the UCR folks, and our question was, "Can we at San Diego County Animal Services report our data directly up to the UCR, and bypass the local law enforcement?" They have some concerns about that, about what data we would be able to see and things like that. And our response to them was, "Can we make it a one-way push?' Can we just push our data but not be able to extract data from you? We're still trying to work that out. We're trying to make this as seamless and easy as possible. That may be one of the options that we can do. If you're animal control and you don't have an ORI, can we get one and just bypass police and everything goes straight to the UCR. That would make it so much easier. That way we're not burdening the local law enforcement with having to have them transfer data.
Dr. Mary Lou Randour: Yeah, it's a work in progress and it will be determined state by state.
Click here to watch a recording of "Animal Cruelty Reporting: What Law Enforcement and Justice Professionals Need to Know."