On January 1, Tennessee began compiling the nation’s first public registry of people found guilty of animal abuse. Anyone convicted of such an activity will now be listed here, along with their picture, age, place of residence, and the nature of the crime. Aggravated animal cruelty, felony animal fighting, and related offenses will be included.
This coincides with a similar action by the FBI to create an animal abuse database: Beginning in January, the FBI began requiring police departments to report animal-related crimes as part of its National Incident-Based Reporting System. Both measures were taken, ultimately, by ongoing examples of horrifying abuse met with little or no consequences.
The Tennessee registry was mandated by the Tennessee Animal Abuser Registry Act, which passed last May. The act was proposed by representative Darren Jarrington in response to a light sentence given a man who beat a puppy to death with a tire iron.
Animal activists hope the Tennessee law will spur similar action in other states, and similar bills are pending in fourteen states. In four of those states, however, bills were proposed but never got out of 2015 legislative committees. This despite the fact they only required compilation of public data, without changing any legal code.
An immediate benefit of the act is that shelters will find it easier to identify abusers who apply to adopt their animals. A larger benefit is that public awareness of animal abuse will be heightened, hopefully prompting other measures to be taken. (Such awareness comes slowly – the animals, of course, cannot speak for themselves.)
The FBI, meanwhile, changed its crime-reporting program partly in hopes that the move will heighten state and local police awareness of the crime. According to John Thompson, deputy director of the National Sheriffs’ Association who pushed for the measure, “[Before,] if there were an animal crime, we would just send it over to animal control or ignore it.” And police are themselves occasionally guilty of this type of abuse.
The bureau also has a second motive. It is charged with tracking criminal activity and trends across the country and understands, better than most, that those who abuse animals are likely to commit other serious crimes. The new bureau program is a step towards recognizing animal abuse as a serious and intolerable crime.