In a move seen as a big win for animal rights activists, the FBI has added animal cruelty to its list of Class A felonies, alongside homicide and arson.
Cases of animal cruelty fall into four categories — neglect; intentional abuse and torture; organized abuse, such as cock and dog fighting; and sexual abuse of animals — and the agency is now monitoring them as it does other serious crimes. Starting January 1, data is being entered into the National Incident-Based Reporting System or NIBRS, the public database the FBI uses to keep a record of national crimes.
The FBI's decision will not only be a way to stop cases of animal abuse but also can help to identify people who might commit violent acts, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Psychological studies show that nearly 70 percent of violent criminals began by abusing animals, and keeping statistics on such cases can help law enforcement track down high-risk demographics and areas.
"Regardless of whether people care about how animals are treated, people – like legislators and judges – care about humans, and they can't deny the data," Natasha Dolezal, director of the animal law program in the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark College, in Portland, Oregon, told the Associated Press.
Animal abuse is already a felony in 13 states and in Washington, DC., but it had been previously classified with other miscellaneous crimes, making it impossible to get a handle on the patterns of animal-abuse crimes.
The move to begin tracking cases of animal abuse is a "huge policy shift and significant step forward," Scott Heiser, a lawyer with the Animal Defense League, told the Washington Post.
The FBI announced the change in 2014 but only began collecting data as of this month. The information will be publicly available in the coming year, the FBI said.