NYPD’s Anti-Cruelty Initiative a Success

Posted by Christopher Wlach, ALDF Guest Blogger on August 12, 2014

The NYPD’s recent anti-cruelty initiative has, for many of New York’s animals, been a success. Since the initiative’s launch in January 1, 2014, cruelty investigations have nearly tripled in the city, with the NYPD now taking the lead in responding to complaints. Just last week, for instance, the NYPD’s newly-formed Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad rescued 20 pit bulls from brutal living conditions in Queens, NY.

These increased enforcement efforts represent a positive step toward stopping animal abuse. But New York’s anti-cruelty laws aren’t just for protecting dogs and cats—they protect horses too. Yet how the NYPD’s anti-cruelty initiative is dealing with New York’s carriage horses remains uncertain.

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This uncertainty is nothing new. Back in October 2012, ALDF was concerned that the NYPD was not fulfilling its duties to enforce various statutes and regulations protecting carriage horses. ALDF therefore used New York’s Freedom of Information Law—“FOIL” for short—to request enforcement records. FOIL sets up a simple process for obtaining government records: you describe the records you want to a government agency; and unless an exception applies, the agency has to provide them. Yet despite the clear wording of ALDF’s request, the NYPD initially denied that it had any responsive records about carriage horses. And when the NYPD maintained this position on appeal, ALDF was forced to challenge the NYPD in court. After a hearing, a New York judge agreed with ALDF that the NYPD’s professed lack of records was “just hard to believe.” He ordered the NYPD to produce its various enforcement records.

ALDF’s successful FOIL suit underscores the importance of “the people’s right to know”—a right that not only lies at the heart of New York’s Freedom of information Law but also is closely linked to carriage horses’ welfare: without a meaningful right to review NYPD records, the public can’t know whether the NYPD is actually enforcing the laws protecting New York’s carriage horses.

And while the NYPD’s enforcement partnership with the ASPCA appears to be yielding positive results for many animals, it’s still uncertain whether New York’s carriage horses are seeing the partnership’s benefits. With the NYPD now helming anti-cruelty investigations, the ASPCA has disbanded its own Humane Law Enforcement division. It is unclear, however, whether the NYPD has also taken over the division’s enforcement of carriage horse laws—for instance, alerting Central Park drivers to carriage traffic and ensuring that horses are not working in excessive heat. Indeed, recent incidents suggest that enforcement may be lax.

The NYPD/ASPCA anti-cruelty partnership is promising. But it’s important that carriage horses not be left behind. To that end, public inquiry—including through requests under New York’s Freedom of Information Law—provides an essential mechanism for ensuring that the laws protecting carriage horses are not just on the books, but enforced in practice.

Christopher Wlach is an attorney at the New York office of Winston & Strawn LLP, which represented ALDF pro bono in this matter. The views expressed above do not necessarily reflect the views of Winston & Strawn LLP, its management or employees.