“It will help get better sentences, sway juries and make for better plea bargains,” explained Madeline Bernstein, president and CEO of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles.
Previously, the FBI labeled animal cruelty crimes as ‘other’ grouping it with other lesser offenses. The system made the offenses hard to track and prosecute so this month the bureau has announced animal cruelty crimes, like murder and assault, will have their own category as a felony.
The change is based on research that shows serial killers and other violent criminals often start their hideous crimes with animals. Jeffrey Dahmer, ‘Son of Sam’ and the ‘Boston Strangler’ are some of the infamous killers who got their start by torturing cats and dogs when young.
“Regardless of whether people care about how animals are treated, people — like legislators and judges — care about humans, and they can’t deny the data,” said Natasha Dolezal, director of the animal law program in the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.
The goal with the new system is for authorities to more easily identify and prosecute offenders of animal cruelty so that “if he gets help now, he won’t turn into Jeffrey Dahmer,” explained Bernstein.
According to an FBI statement, the animal cruelty category will be divided into four sub categories: simple or gross neglect; intentional abuse and torture; organized abuse, which includes dogfighting and cockfighting; and animal sexual abuse.
The cases will take some time to be transferred to the right FBI database but tracking is supposed to start in 2016. And even if the stricter penalties on animal cruelty aren’t targeted to helping animals, the new system is bound to do it just by raising awareness to authorities on how bad the problem really is.
“The immediate benefit is it will be in front of law enforcement every month when they have to do their crime reports,” said John Thompson, interim executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association who helped to get the new animal cruelty category instituted. “That’s something we have never seen.”