A report created in collaboration between the The National Sheriffs’ Association and the National Coalition on Violence Against Animals calls for law enforcement to take crimes against animals more seriously as a way to prevent crimes against humans. Various studies and statistics have demonstrated a strong link between animal cruelty and other violent crimes, such as domestic abuse and homicide. The report, titled “Animal Cruelty as a Gateway Crime,” aims to increase awareness of that link among law enforcement officers and equip them with tools to more effectively address animal abuse.
The report was informed, in part, by a panel of experts who presented on animal abuse and cruelty at the 2015 National Sheriffs’ Association Winter Conference. The panel included representatives from many animal protection organizations, including the Animal Welfare Institute, Humane Society of the United States, Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as well as other expert organizations such as the American Psychological Association and the National District Attorneys Association.
The panel’s overarching point, and that of the report, was that animal abuse is a serious crime, and needs to be responded to with the same attention as other crimes. The panel identified a lack of communication and understanding between law enforcement and animal control as one component of why animal-related crimes are not responded to with the appropriate gravity, as well as a lack of understanding among law enforcement of the reasons why animal crimes matter.
Among those reasons, of course, is the fact that animal cruelty laws exist because of public opinion and because of the same legislative process as any other crime, and there is no inherent reason that one category of laws should not be enforced once they have been established. Beyond this, the report explores in detail the second reason why law enforcement needs to pay more attention to animal abuse, which is that animal abuse is a so-called ‘gateway crime,’ with a demonstrated likelihood of occurring as a precursor to other crimes, or co-occurring along with other crimes.
The report states that “animal abusers are five times more likely than non–animal abusers to commit violent crimes against people, four times more likely to commit property crimes, and three times more likely to have a record for drug or disorderly conduct offenses.” Because of this link, animal abuse can serve as a “warning sign” for other criminal and violent behaviors, and can be used to identify people who may be a threat to others. In addition to citing various studies on the link between animal abuse and violence towards humans, the report includes a list of serial killers, mass murderers, and other violent criminals who had a record of killing and abusing animals, such as Jeffery Dahmer and David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” killer.
Animal abuse is also likely to co-occur with domestic violence and child or elder abuse, and can serve as a “window into the home,” not only in terms of indicating that family abuse may be occurring, but also by providing law enforcement with a way in to homes where additional abuse may be apparent upon investigation. Animal abuse and domestic abuse may also be interrelated, such as in situations where pets are abused in order to gain control over human family members and to keep them from leaving an abusive situation. Children who abuse animals may do so in response to experiencing abuse themselves, either as an enactment of learned violent behaviors or a way to exert some control when they otherwise feel powerful.
The report is meant to serve as one piece of an entire toolkit created for law enforcement, which also includes a series of informational videos and a smartphone app meant for officers responding to calls, which can help guide them through the appropriate response to animal cruelty and identify whether there may be signs of other co-occurring crimes.
Featured image: The 2001 arrest of Jesse Powers, who captured, tortured and killed a stray cat on film and presented to film to his art class at the Ontario College for Art and Design in Toronto. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.