ASPCA closes storied enforcement unit in NYC
FILE -This 2004 photo provided by Animal Planet shows investigator Annemarie Lucas of the Humane Law Enforcement division of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals with a rescued dog in New York. ASPCA agents wore uniforms, flashed badges, carried guns, traveled in blue-and-white squad cars, and for years starred in “Animal Precinct,” as did Lucas, but as of this month, the ASPCA laid off almost all of its 18 law enforcement agents and is now leaving those responsibilities solely to the New York City Police Department. (AP Photo/Animal Planet, Laura Pedrick)
NEW YORK (AP) — For all its 147 years, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been more than an advocacy group; it has served as the primary law enforcement agency for animal abuse and neglect in New York City.
That role, the first of its kind in the nation, led to a squad of uniformed agents who flashed badges, carried guns, made arrests, traveled in blue-and-white squad cars and, for years, starred in an Animal Planet reality TV show, "Animal Precinct."
But now, that unit is losing its bite. In December, the ASPCA laid off most of its 17 remaining law enforcement agents. Their responsibilities will be left to the New York Police Department.
The change is one that has been sought for years by some animal advocates, who said the ASPCA's small enforcement staff couldn't handle the volume of abuse reports and was taking weeks or months to respond to calls regular police could probably get to in hours.
Others are concerned that without a team focused on animal abuse, it could be given a lower priority by officers dealing with a full plate of human-on-human crimes.
"If they think they can just give this to regular police officers and have them handle it, they're crazy," said David Favre, an expert on animal law at the Michigan State University. "It's hard work. It's different work. It's important work. And it's sad that the ASPCA isn't doing it anymore."
Over the past few years, the ASPCA's humane law enforcement division has handled about 4,000 investigations annually and made about one arrest per week, according to the nonprofit group. Tens of thousands of additional abuse reports came in through a hotline — with tips surging from 2001 to 2008, when "Animal Precinct" was on the air.
FILE - This undated file photo shows Henry Burgh, who founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866 because he was angered at seeing horses mistreated on the streets of New York. For 147 years, the ASPCA has had a bite to match its bark. Armed ASPCA officers have long had authority in New York City to investigate cruelty complaints, make arrests and seize mistreated animals. But the ASPCA's longtime role as the city's premier enforcer of animal protection laws is ending. Since the summer, the ASPCA has been working to turn over most enforcement responsibilities to the New York City police. (AP Photo, File)
The changes were initially put into motion in August following the spring appointment of the ASPCA President Matthew Bershadker, who previously led the organization's anti-cruelty division. Bershadker has said the NYPD's more than 34,000 officers are simply better positioned to keep up with the huge volume of complaints.
The NYPD has always had the ability to investigate and make arrests in animal abuse cases, but it doesn't currently have a unit dedicated to that task.