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Editorial Advisory Board: Baltimore police should keep Animal Abuse Unit

A newly released staffing plan from the Baltimore City Police Department recommends closing the Animal Abuse Unit — something we view as a serious mistake in protecting the city from violent criminals!

We previously wrote about the well-known nexus between abuse of animals and violent crimes against people. Animal abuse is a better predictor of sexual assault than are previous convictions of homicide, arson or weapons offenses, according to police researchers. One police department review of national crime records found that 70% of people charged with cruelty to animals also had other reported incidents of violent behavior — including homicide.

The key is people charged with animal cruelty — something the Animal Abuse Unit does and does well despite having only one dedicated detective. It works like this: The Baltimore City Office of Animal Control receives approximately 18,000 complaints a year, 4,500 of which are categorized as “animal in danger/injured/abused or neglected.” The Animal Control department investigates with 15 animal enforcement field officers to determine which cases should be referred to the police department for further investigation. That figure is going up — cases resulting in police investigation increased from 108 in fiscal year 2018 to 147 in fiscal 2019. Incredibly, due to the fine work of the Animal Abuse Unit and the dedicated assistant state’s attorney, the conviction rate in cases prosecuted is around 80%.

Why is it working? Because of the skill and understanding of the police detective investigating the complaints. Remember the 2009 case of the severely burned dog Phoenix, who was set on fire in broad daylight in Baltimore city? She died and the acquittal of the defendants (after two jury trials) was a direct result of the ignorance of the police investigators who discarded evidence at the crime scene and failed to investigate for six days. The public outcry resulted in the creation of the anti-animal abuse task force, which recommended that the Baltimore City Police Department assign three officers to investigate animal cruelty and dog fighting. This was 10 years ago.

Currently, the Animal Abuse Unit has one detective who is trained in recognizing and preserving evidence, conducting interviews, authoring search warrants and conducting wiretap investigations, with additional training by national animal protection agencies such as the Humane Society of the United States. We need more trained detectives, as the Baltimore police patrol officers simply do not have the specific training necessary to convict animal abusers. More convictions of animal abuse result in fewer violent criminals roaming our streets.

The staffing plan calls for an additional 300 police officers. Why not improve the Animal Abuse Unit with more trained detectives instead of moving ahead with the ill-advised elimination of a proven unit that is protecting Maryland’s animals and citizens?

The Baltimore Police Department is accepting comments regarding the staffing plan until Jan. 13, 2020. To leave a comment, visit https://www.baltimorepolice.org/draft-bpd-staffing-plan.

Editorial Advisory Board members Michael P. Van Alstine and Vanessa Vescio did not take part in this editorial.

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS

James B. Astrachan, Chair

James K. Archibald

Arthur F. Fergenson

Nancy Forster

Susan Francis

Michael Hayes

James Haynes

Ericka N. King

Stephen Z. Meehan

C. William Michaels

Angela W. Russell

Debra G. Schubert

H. Mark Stichel

Michael P. Van Alstine

Vanessa Vescio

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.

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