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Imagine what it would be like if police officers would be allowed on the street without first receiving extensive training in their local, state or federal law enforcement academy.  We would think this to be outrageous and would hear the outcry of the citizenry.  Why then wouldn’t we expect the same of our animal services officers who represent animals and protect citizens in the communities they serve?

In most, if not all police departments, an officer must successfully complete comprehensive law enforcement training that is consistent from recruit to recruit before being allowed to operate on the street.  Have you ever wondered what animal services officers are schooled in before they’re released to the street?  It is more a question of variance than one of any real constant answer even if the animal services division in a community is located within the local law enforcement entity.

I got a great article I wanted to share with you from my friend, Steve Dickstein, a writer for the examiner.  This is such an important topic, which can save the lives of so many animals.

Recently, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) released a groundbreaking research study that   “. . . stresses the critical role that animal services and animal cruelty investigations play in communities nationwide while pointing out the obstacles that law enforcement professionals face in responding to animal abuse.”  The question is how can animal services and law enforcement officials fulfill this role without targeted basic, specialty and continuing training that will allow them to appropriately react to incidents involving the safety and well-being of animals and the communities they serve.

According to Dr. Randall Lockwood, Senior Vice President of the ASPCA’s Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects, the impetus for a recent study entitled “Professional and Public Perspectives on Animal Cruelty” was to try and get a sense of how the ASPCA could outreach to the public and law enforcement on animal cruelty.  The goal is to help them take animal cruelty more seriously.

The research study was conducted primarily in three phases, as follows:

  1. Qualitative – – utilized law enforcement focus groups in New York, Dallas and San Diego.  There were more than 30 police officers and several animal control officers included;
  2. Quantitative – – consisted of two 15-minute online surveys targeting the general population and law enforcement officers throughout the country; and
  3. Media Analysis – – gathered animal cruelty coverage visualized in print and online media outlets during a finite period.  More than 175,000 news stories were gathered of which 9,552 animal cruelty stories (excluding wildlife) were deemed qualified and included as part of the analysis.

Pup with Police Dad

Dr. Lockwood emphasized the high level of dog ownership (78%) amongst law enforcement personnel and pointed out how that allows them to relate to the impact of animal cruelty on both the animal and law enforcement.  Nonetheless, they still rank animal cruelty issues below crimes such as “. . . violence against a minor, domestic and family violence, assault against another person, drug-related crimes and property theft in terms of importance.  However,  animal cruelty ranks above white-collar crime and traffic violations.”

The report, in talking about obstacles in dealing with animal cruelty cases, states that law enforcement officers were “. . .  being asked to do more with less.  For officers it comes back to the issue of humans versus animals, and with limited time and resources, humans become their priority.”

Said Dr. Lockwood, “These findings validate what we have long assumed—that there is a major need for training for officers charged with enforcing animal cruelty laws and investigating cruelty cases.  The ASPCA is unique in that we offer staff with specialized knowledge on this topic and have developed partnerships with shelters to help facilitate temporary housing for animals seized in such cases.  We support local agencies across the U.S. with law enforcement training programs and other resources.”

Starved Dog

The ASPCA training, in conjunction with the United States Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office, includes “. . . an in-depth, free on-line course on combating dogfighting and is developing a ‘dogfighting tool kit’ for law enforcement and animal welfare professionals.”

It is important to understand the multi-faceted world that animal related incidents penetrate in terms of response.  The line between criminal and civil citation action is often misunderstood by the public at large with regard to animal concerns. This is further complicated by the way in which jurisdictions approach the investigation of animal complaints; sometimes handled by personnel within a government law enforcement agency, an independent government agency, contracted to a local non-profit humane entity or a combination thereof.  It is often not as simple as dialing 911 for help.  You should become familiar with the set up wherever you live and the reporting agency to contact should you need animal related services.

For example, under Florida Statute 828.27(1)(b), “‘Animal control officer’ means any person employed or appointed by a county or municipality who is authorized to investigate, on public or private property, civil infractions relating to animal control or cruelty and to issue citations as provided in this section.  An animal control officer is not authorized to bear arms or make arrests; however, such officer may carry a device to chemically subdue and tranquilize an animal, provided that such officer has successfully completed a minimum of 16 hours of training in marksmanship, equipment handling, safety and animal care, and can demonstrate proficiency in chemical immobilization of animals in accordance with guidelines prescribed in the Chemical Immobilization Operational Guide of the American Humane Association.”

The Florida Animal Control Association (FACA) believes in “. . . an initial mandatory certification program, special certification training, and ongoing certification training for animal control and protection officers.  An initial mandatory certification program for county animal control officers became effective on January 1, 1990, and requires animal control officers to complete a minimum 40 hour training curriculum approved by FACA before they can issue citations, as outlined by FL Statutes, 828.27.  This certification program should impart both the knowledge and the skills needed to perform the job in a professional manner.”

In Orange County, Florida, Orange County Animal Services (OCAS) adheres to the following protocol for educating their officers:

  • Florida Animal Control Association (FACA) requires a 40-hour ACO Certification Course; every 2 years required to complete 4 hours of post certification continuing education training.  Training may include, but not limited to, training for animal cruelty investigations, search and seizure, animal handling, courtroom demeanor and civil citations.
  • Orange County Animal Services provides ongoing in-house training including ordinance training, report writing, dangerous dogs, animal handling, impound/identification, cat and dog first aid, aging and sexing, bite investigations, cruelty investigations, heatstroke, heartworms, vaccines, medications, toxicology and citation training.
  • As budget allows, officers complete Level I, II, & III National Cruelty Investigation training, including dogfighting and hoarding.

OCAS officers possess varied educational backgrounds ranging from high school graduates to those on staff with college degrees.

When asked what importance their agency places on training and development of staff, OCAS responded that:

  • Animal Services places a high priority on providing ongoing training to officers to help enhance and professionalize their position.  In addition, non-officer staff are encouraged to attend industry, technology or other specialty conferences when held locally.  Within the last year, staff have attended conferences including the Florida Veterinary Medical Conference, Chameleon (in-house database) Conference, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) workshops, and domestic violence response training.
  • Recently we partnered with the HSUS to host an Illegal Animal Fighting Investigations Workshop, which was attended by local law enforcement and animal welfare organizations.
  • In November, officer and non-officer staff attended the 2010 FACA Educational Conference.

And yet, in other local communities across the country, so-called training may be nothing more than riding around with different animal control officers for a number of weeks without the benefit of any formal and dedicated training curriculum in place. If you’re a service contracted to government, depending on how the contract language is written, formal training may go almost unnoticed with some form of on the job training passing as the standard.

The point is training for animal services officers or those charged with responding to animal related concerns is all over the map.  It is often inconsistent, may be even non-existent and in the words of Dr. Lockwood “quite spotty.”  That is in the eyes of this column a failing of many local governments to adequately train responders to protect both animals and their human counterparts in the communities they serve.

Dr. Lockwood feels that funding is a big obstacle to obtaining appropriate training and notes that animal control is often the first thing to be cut when there are municipal budget woes.  Whether located within a law enforcement agency, independent or a contracted service, he further believes that leadership is needed to take the training issue for animal responders seriously.

OCAS provides training for their officers through the Animal Services Trust Fund.  According to Kathleen Kennedy, OCAS Program Coordinator for Marketing & Public Relations, “The trust fund is comprised of public donations and surcharges from citations.  The surcharge line item is used for officer training.  Usage of the other donations is approved by our Advisory Board and County Administration.”  The current fiscal year budget for officer training is $8,500.

Said Dr. Lockwood, “Animal services officers are a vital part of the crime fighting and violence prevention team in a community.” Unfortunately they are still often perceived at the dog catcher level instead of animal care and control professionals.  He believes they need respect and more recognition for the role animal services plays in the community.

Furthermore, Dr. Lockwood maintains animal services is part of the broader community response and believes in the notion of true community oriented policing instead of a lack of communication between various services.  Often animal related calls are first identified to local law enforcement.  If there is a law enforcement response they may then kick the call back to animal services to handle, but without certain enforcement power to fully carry on with the case the system may then bog down between those and other agencies that are needed to respond.

All responders need to be appropriately trained in their own disciplines, but also need to have the ability and philosophy to communicate as partners to help the victims they are responsible to protect.  For many situations responded to there is an interconnection and the trick is to get responders that are already doing their jobs to talk with one another.  In short, there needs to be better communication between agencies on interconnected cases and concerns.

The animal welfare or protection movement has managed to move laws nationwide on animal cruelty forward, but still according to the ASPCA study less than 30 percent of law enforcement officers are familiar with the penalties. There needs to be more awareness incorporated into police training and Dr. Lockwood advocates making animal cruelty training a standard part of law enforcement training.

While likening animal cruelty training today to the same lower level domestic violence training for law enforcement officers was at a point in times past, Dr. Lockwood wants to see a standard recognition for animal cruelty training similar to what domestic violence training has become.  For law enforcement officers domestic violence is now more widely recognized for the true crime it is, but recognition of animal cruelty as part of an officer’s everyday psyche still has a long way to go.

Dr. Lockwood believes a multi-faceted approach to animal cruelty is needed if we are to be successful long term in fighting animal cruelty.  This approach would encourage the following to take place:

  1. The development of decent laws to address animal cruelty;
  2. Persuade the public to report the animal cruelty they see by teaching them what the law is and who to call;
  3. Train police officers how to respond to complaints of animal cruelty, explain why they should respond and to emphasize animal cruelty complaints should be taken seriously;
  4. Train veterinarians how to document animal cruelty;
  5. Educate prosecutors on how to effectively prosecute animal cruelty cases; and
  6. Educate judges to take animal cruelty cases seriously and to make sound recommendations.

The ultimate goal is to set up greater involvement by law enforcement in recognizing animal cruelty and animal cruelty investigations.  For example, Dr. Lockwood pointed to the high level of recognition by police of animal hoarding as a real concern.  This recognition is a major step forward from even five years ago.

Animal cruelty is something that continues to invade our sense of right and wrong and desire to protect those four-legged souls we love.  In a mere three-month period (between March 12 and June 14, 2010), according to the ASPCA study, “. . . there were 9,552 animal cruelty stories (non-wildlife) visible in print and online media outlets in the US . . . Nearly 300 animal cruelty stories reported on the link between acts of animal cruelty and violence on humans.  Overall there were more than 109 million opportunities to see reports that those who have committed cruelty on animals are significantly more likely to carry out violence on another human being.”

The need for mandatory training nationwide for animal services, animal control,  humane law enforcement officers, or whatever the given name in a local jurisdiction is long past due.  Diana Culp, fellow Examiner and former director of education for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), is an advocate for training but also realistic in her thinking.  She asks how certification could be made mandatory if there are not widely available programs?

Ms. Culp is correct, but whether the solution is for the animal community to develop training locally, seek regional cooperation, ask for help from the state or rely on national animal organizations to supply a curriculum with appropriate input particular to a specific jurisdiction is a concern that should be raised as a priority issue within the animal community and the governmental community that is ultimately responsible for the health, protection and well-being of both the two and four-legged citizens it serves.

Just like training police officers before they hit the street fresh with their new found responsibility, and adorned with badges of enforcement power, animal services officers should be provided with standard professional training so they too can bear the heavy responsibility their community places on them to appropriately and successfully protect and investigate animal related matters.

Training should not be considered a luxury item in an agency or organization’s budget, because it is a necessity. As citizens we need to encourage this and make sure to hold our local governments accountable to provide the resources necessary to government agencies or contracted organizations (on their behalf) to provide the community with professionally trained animal services personnel and law enforcement officers who can identify and respond to animal cruelty.

For more information on the ASPCA research study, please contact Emily Schneider at emilys@aspca.org or (212) 876-7700 x4575.

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6 Responses to “Training for Animal Cruelty Investigators”

  • I found your page via a Ask search and I want to compliment you on it. There’s so much helpful tips here. You’ve just won yourself a regular visitor.

  • I totally agree we need more animal control officers. Who will pay for the training? I think it is time to get concerned welfare groups involved. It seems that no group is interested in taking on even volunteer hours from concerned citizens. For years, I have lobbied against puppy mill breeders, it would be a simple fix, to train volunteers from rescue groups to do JUST the routine inspections of these kennels that are operating under the radar from the USDA. There are not enough paid staff to help reduce the numbers of suffering animals, it needs to start from the volunteer sector at this point, no one is willing to fund inspectors. Let’s all work together to stop animal cruelty, whether it brings a paycheck or not.

  • Jane says:

    I live in Baltimore where we do have animal control officers but they are understaffed and overwhelmed. The shelter here where I used to work consistently gets put to the back of the line when it comes to doling out government funds, and with the economy the way it is, I’m sure the budget is stretched out even thinner. It always boils down to decreasing the animal population and education.

  • Paul says:

    It seems to never stop. Someone left a small puppy in a show box by a Skytrain Station in Vancouver. It died. And I have sure you have all heard of the cull of Huskies.

  • It never stops shocking me how low animals rank in importance with humans and yet without them we would literally have nothing. Thank you for this information and bringing it to our attention. Animals deserve to be protected by the law! And by people who understand the law and the animals they protect.

  • Sheri-lyn says:

    Thanks so much for sharing! I’ve posted it in the BellaDOG website along with Facebook!

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