The changes coming to how charges of animal abuse and neglect are handled are broad and sweeping. It has moved into the federal arena with both the FBI and the Attorney General announces major changes to how cases are handles. Local municipalities may no longer have the ability to define their own limits and regulations in regards to animal cruelty.
What the Feds are planning
Starting in 2016 the FBI is planning to evaluate and collect data on those who commit animal abuse, including instances of neglect. They are redefining the offenses from the “other crimes” category to the “crimes against humanity” category that includes murder and rape. This will require local agencies to submit documentation of animal abuse and neglect cases to the federal database. It is hoped that within a year the database can be effectively current. The thinking behind this redefining of the nature of these crimes is that there is overwhelming clinical support between the link of animal abuse and violence towards humans, specifically in small children.
What the AG just announced
At almost the same time the courts have returned a finding that lifts the gag order off the secret filming of animal abuse. The meat industry won a strong victory when they had secret filming banned as violation of privacy. That ruling is now overturned so advocates for animal safety and hygiene are already planning a return to the secret filming practice.
Does this change the whistle blower problems?
What has not been addressed is what the AG ruling will do for the identified whistle blower issue with advocates who participate in secret filming. The law states that those who witness abuse of animals have a duty to report that abuse to authorities as soon as possible. As in recent cases where the collection of filmed evidence took months, while the facility and company was brought up on animal cruelty charges, so was the whistle blower. This is an issue that has yet to be adequately addressed.
Is data tracking really profiling?
Another issue that has been raised in regards to the FBI reclassification is whether or not this amounts to a type of profiling that could be unconstitutional. While the FBI has not directly stated that the data would be use to flag potential violent offenders it very well could. Given the complicated and contentious nature of juvenile offenses, the industry awaits the first test case to find out just how much protection juveniles will have from this new federal classification of early warning offense.
Navigating cultural waters
Other issues that municipalities struggle with are the cultural waters that must be crossed to bring awareness of animal abuse and neglect to communities, says one Chicago lawyer. As demographics change within the country, there are areas in which animals are not as valued as humans due to cultural mores. Changing attitudes towards animal care and accountability is going to be a prolonged and costly process. There have yet to be any plans made for funding this type of educational venture.
Understanding when the Feds are involved
As for lawyers and law enforcement officers the ground has gotten even trickier with knowing when information about an animal abuse or neglect offense must be passed to the FBI. The rules on procedure have yet to be set so it is unknown whether data is collected upon the charge or conviction. It is expected that full documentation on the ruling will be released towards the end of 2015. What resistance it will meet from child welfare advocates remains to be seen, as of now advocates are mostly silent on the subject.