The article below was originally published in the Garda Review, September 2023.
Animal-related crime can provide valuable intelligence and evidence for other offences
Animal Law Ireland (animallaw.ie) is a voluntary organisation, with members from an animal rescue background, who now focus on advocacy. ALI has teamed up with Mark Randell, founder of Hidden-in-Sight (hiddeninsight.org) to explore the link between animal crime and other forms of crime, as well as uncovering the opportunities that investigating animal crime provides. Randell is a retired detective inspector and community police officer based in the UK.
As a former community police officer who later became responsible for serious crime and counter terrorism within Special Branch, Randell knows only too well the benefit of police working alongside the community and what tragedies can unfold when those partnerships are broken.
A policing strategy that includes community problem solving, anticipating crime trends, identifying high-risk victims and effective use of intelligence and analysis must include crimes against animals, as they interconnect with all aspects of this strategy.
An increased focus on animal-related crime is key to successful policing where members are nurturing partnerships and engagement within the community to detect and prevent crime, drugs, and anti-social behaviour. The link between animal crime and other crimes is clear. Randell walked us through some examples he has come across.
Randell reflects, “My gun trafficking operation whose ringleaders were also dog fighters didn’t succeed because we failed to investigate the associated organised animal abuse. I learned from this and in 2020 was able to pass a dossier as part of a two-year investigation into global dog fighting to the Hellenic Police, leading to the dismantling of a crime gang, over 100 arrests and the seizure of cash, drugs, guns, vehicles and five dogs.”
In 2021 when Randell examined cases of distribution of extreme pornography involving children over a 12-month period in England and Wales, he saw that 73% of the cases also involved animal sexual abuse. The link to other forms of crime is clear.
Randell says, “In Dnipro, Ukraine, three young men committed a series of atrocities against street animals. Their next criminal enterprise was to murder 21 vulnerable members of society using the same modus operandi. History shows again and again that when animal cruelty is marginalised, people get harmed.”
A study by the RSPCA in the UK (Animal Kindness Index) says that 69% of people considered themselves as animal lovers; higher numbers amongst women and older populations. According to the CSO, over half (52%) of respondents surveyed said that they have a pet in their home. To those with sight, hearing, medical needs or to survivors of family abuse, they are more than a pet, they are a lifeline. To a large proportion of the population, they are part of the family, part of the community, hence their consideration in domestic call-outs is vital.
Domestic call-outs are one of the largest operational activities of community gardaí, with over 49,257 domestic abuse reports received in 2022.
A POLICING STRATEGY THAT INCLUDES COMMUNITY PROBLEM SOLVING, ANTICIPATING CRIME TRENDS, IDENTIFYING HIGH-RISK VICTIMS AND EFFECTIVE USE OF INTELLIGENCE AND ANALYSIS MUST INCLUDE CRIMES AGAINST ANIMALS, AS THEY INTERCONNECT WITH ALL ASPECTS OF THIS STRATEGY
The College of Policing in the UK has introduced a Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment (DARA) partnership form that asks whether an abuser of the human victim has hurt animals, because it is one of the strongest associated behaviours. This would be a good addition to the Risk Evaluation Tool gardaí use. Evidence suggests that children exposed to domestic abuse were nearly three times more likely to exhibit cruelty to animals. (Currie 2006).
In attending a domestic violence scene or coercive control scenario, where an animal is involved, Randell suggests trying to see the animal as part of the family unit. Start the conversation, keep an open mind, then expand the conversation. Potential questions could include asking, “when did the animal come into the home”, “what’s his/her name?”, “where did the dog come from?”, “what happened to the last dog?” The use of open questions is less confrontational dialogue. The victim may not want to leave the animal. There may be a need to reach out to local rescue organisations to care for the animal.
Recognise and be aware of the signs of animal harm. What does the information mean? What can be done with the information? Be aware of any disqualifications a perpetrator may have, and have an awareness of the range of animal-related legislation available.
A reminder that under part 2 (court proceedings), section 5(2)(g) of the Domestic Violence Act 2018, in determining an application for a specified order, the court shall have regard to all the factors or circumstances that it considers may have a bearing on the application including where relevant – “any history of animal cruelty by the respondent”.
In the wake of the government’s Zero Tolerance campaign, there has been a welcome update to section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. The offences of harassment and stalking of a person now include “interfering with the property (including pets) of a person”. Pets are generally considered property under the law, however it is encouraging to see their explicit inclusion in this recent legislative revision.
An analysis of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department data found that “Pet abuse just continues to jump out as the greatest predictor of intimate partner violence” and having information about past calls to the property can help protect police and others who may attend a call (Campbell, Thompson, Harris, Wiehe 2021). It’s important to note also that going to a house where a known animal abuser lives, can also mean a higher risk of assault on police. Animals can be used by a human to exercise coercive control over victims, or be the reason victims are hesitant to leave an unsafe situation.
An increased focus on animal-related crime is key to successful policing where members are nurturing partnerships and engagement within the community to detect and prevent crime, drugs, and anti-social behaviour.
On February 21 2017, a family in New Jersey called the police because a family member had stabbed the family dog. The police questioned the motivation behind the abuse, discovered a pressure cooker and written material relating to the man’s plan to detonate a bomb in New York City on behalf of ISIS (see justice.gov). The terrorist attack was thwarted because the police had taken the animal report seriously. The dog survive.
Investigating animal crime can help build the reputation of police. There are opportunities for intelligence gathering, to disrupt and deter crime, especially when working in tandem with other agencies. It is important that the public are encouraged to report animal crime. It also provides positive community engagement opportunities. Investigating an animal-related crime
could be an opportunity to deal with other investigations, achieve KPIs and advance a career. Animal and wildlife crime also traverses into the world of organised crime, movement of drugs, money laundering, organised animal fighting, animal baiting and even food fraud.
The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 (AHWA) provides powers to search land, premises, vehicles, search a private dwelling (with a warrant), seize and detain an animal, detain a person, detain a vehicle for inspection, remove documents or equipment, seize evidence, obtain a search warrant and arrest without warrant.
Each member of An Garda Síochána is an authorised officer under the AHWA. The number of members with experience in prosecutions in animal and wildlife crime is growing. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has over 200 veterinary inspectors (all authorised officers) nationwide. ISPCA, DSPCA, Revenue and IHRB have authorised officers under the AHWA, as do many local authorities.
Being aware of their powers under the AHWA and other animal related legislation could be very beneficial for gardaí in their day-to-day role of keeping our community safe.