Senate Bill S2069, sponsored by Senators Linda Greenstein and Nicholas Sacco is a game changer for state and county SPCAs if enacted. It would place animal cruelty enforcement squarely in the hands of municipally employed officers specifically trained to “investigate and sign complaints, arrest violators, and other act as a law enforcement officer for the detection, apprehension, and arrest of offenders against the animal control, animal welfare, and animal cruelty laws of the State and ordinances of the municipality,” eliminating the authority of state and county SPCA agents within any town that appoints its own officer for these purposes.
This bill, which also replaces the term “animal cruelty investigator” with “municipal humane law enforcement officer,” would clarify that the state or county SPCA, in those towns, is not authorized to enforce those laws.
The bill requires supervision of the humane officer by the chief law enforcement officer of the municipality who must determine if the individual is qualified for the position. The human officer must “directly report law enforcement activities to the chief of police.”
These changes are consistent with the conclusions of the Animal Welfare Task Force, appointed by Governor McGreevey, on which I served, recommending in 2004 that:
Police and Sheriffs’ officers—professional law enforcement officers who are already authorized to enforce the cruelty laws—need to play a more prominent role in handling these cases. Moreover, we recommend that each municipality employ animal cruelty investigators, that is, animal control officers who are trained and authorized to enforce the criminal laws protecting animals.
The Task Force also noted the long-standing criticism of the State SPCA, as reported by the State Commission on Investigation calling “for the repeal of the SPCA’s laws enforcement powers,” concluding:
The system needs to be revamped. Law enforcement functions need to be handled by professional law enforcement and the SPCA’s law enforcement functions need to be “professionalized.”
If passed, S2069 would do just that.
In addition to replacing SPCA’s with locally-appointed, specially-trained law enforcement officers, the fines “resulting from enforcement actions by municipal humane law enforcement officers would be paid to the municipality. Currently, the fines are split between the municipality and the NJ SPCA.”
The loss of authority and funding the SPCA relies on, at least in part, could lead to the dismantling of this archaic society first established in the 1800’s before organized law enforcement agencies were firmly established in the this state. At that time “the Legislature authorized private citizens (the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) to enforce the State’s animal cruelty laws—and to do so using weapons, the power to search, to arrest and to commence legal actions—all without any oversight by government.”
Unfortunately, based on the testimony of witnesses and committee members attending the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee on October 19, 2015 when the bill was voted out of committee, it appears as if the bill will be amended to change these important provisions.
The time to place the enforcement of animal cruelty statutes in the hands of law enforcement professionals is long overdue.