Room for Improvement

Posted by Scott Heiser, Director of ALDF's Criminal Justice Program on January 1, 2008

It is the end of the year–a time to reflect, review and resolve.  A time when people find themselves contemplating questions like, "Why didn’t I lose those ten pounds?" and "What the heck did I do with my ThighMaster?" As I look back, I find myself contemplating many events from work, where I interact with a large number of law enforcement professionals–from animal control officers to judges, but mostly cops and prosecutors–on a daily basis.  The majority of these folks recognize the value in doing top quality work in all animal cruelty cases.  However, sadly, there is a significant minority of law enforcement "professionals" with a less than supportive view of this work.  Having no desire to embarrass anybody, I am not going to name names.  Nevertheless, I have decided to share just a couple of examples of some of the behavior I have encountered over this year.  The goal is simply to give you a feeling for just how much more work there is for us to do before we can truly say that this country’s criminal justice system places a priority on cases involving all victims with the capacity to suffer.

In one case, involving a textbook hoarder with well over 100 animals living in hell, the prosecutor was making no effort to move the case through the system.  In response to our repeated, yet polite, requests that the prosecutor promptly file the necessary pleadings to get the case tried, the assistant district attorney stated that he was too busy dealing with "real crime" to attend to this case.  The assistant DA went on to say that because this hoarder didn’t pose much of a "threat" to the community, he would get to it when he could–it just wasn’t a priority case.  Admittedly, this is an impressively myopic view of the situation, begging the question: is a case involving a stolen car really more important than a case involving over 100 dogs and cats forced to endure unspeakable conditions?

In another case, we were trying to get the prosecutor to simply review the facts of a case and make a formal charging decision.  The prosecutor declined to review the information we delivered to him and directed us to send our file to the local sheriff.  We did.  Weeks later, still no charging decision despite repeated requests.  Before we took the case to the media, we contacted the prosecutor to give him one more chance to do the right thing (i.e., review the facts and make a charging decision–also knows as "his job").  In response, the prosecutor actually took the time to write us a letter, wherein (and this is the amazing part) he threatened to sue ALDF for libel should we cause anything untruthful to be reported about him or his office.  No worries there–the truth is more than ample cause to oust this guy from elected office.  

Fortunately, these two cases are the exception.  Like the majority of U.S. households, most cops and prosecutors go home to a house that they share with a pet.  Moreover, law enforcement officials are slowly coming to realize that we Americans spend a heck of a lot of money on the care and feeding of our animals–over $30 billion a year (yes, that’s a "B" as in billion)–that is more than the GNP of over half of the world’s countries).  A motivated constituency to be sure, and those sheriffs, police chiefs and district attorneys who fail to recognize this fact will enjoy short tenures in elected office.

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