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State SPCA May Be Stripped of Law Enforcement Power

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Proposed legislation would revoke the law enforcement powers of the NJSPCA. Credits: File photo
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TRENTON, NJ - A bill that would remove the law enforcement powers of the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) was approved by both the State Senate and Assembly on Monday.

Bill S3558, sponsored by Sen. Ray Lesniak, Democrat from Union County, calls for the creation of a county prosecutor animal cruelty task force in each county, and for a municipal humane law enforcement officer to be appointed in each municipality.

The NJSPCA was severely criticized in a report that was release by the State Commission of Investigation (SCI) released in October.

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“One of New Jersey’s leading humane organizations remains incapable of adequately fulfilling its core mission – enforcing the State’s animal cruelty laws – amid persistent operational waste and abuse and a host of other internal problems," the State Commission of Investigation revealed, according to a press release. The SCI also gave the organization poor marks in another report 17 years earlier. The SCI recommended both time that the NJSPCA be stripped of its law enforcement powers.

According to the bill’s statement, Lesniak’s bill would require “the county prosecutor of each county to establish, within the office of the prosecutor, a county prosecutor animal cruelty task force which is to be responsible for animal welfare within the jurisdiction of the county, and enforce and abide by the animal cruelty laws of the State. The county prosecutor is required to assign or appoint an animal cruelty prosecutor, and is permitted to assign or appoint any assistant prosecutor to the task force to investigate, prosecute, and take other legal action as appropriate for violations of the animal cruelty laws of the State. The county prosecutor is also required to assign or appoint a county law enforcement officer to serve as the chief humane law enforcement officer in the county, and is permitted to assign or appoint any other law enforcement officer under the supervision of the chief humane law enforcement officer, who is to assist with investigations, arrest violators, and otherwise act as an officer for detection, apprehension, and arrest of offenders against the animal welfare and animal cruelty laws of the State.”

The bill would also require the governing body of each municipality to appoint at least one municipal humane law enforcement officer. An animal control officer or police officer may be appointed to serve concurrently as a municipal humane law enforcement officer, and a municipal humane law enforcement officer may be appointed concurrently by more than one municipality, so long as the officer would be able to effectively carry out the duties and responsibilities required of each position held.

Under current law, the NJSPCA grants charters to county or local SPCAs. The local SPCAs or municipalities may hire their own cruelty investigators. If there is no local cruelty investigator then the state group may enforce the laws in the locale. If farm animals such as horses, cattle and small livestock such as poultry or rabbits are involved, the state Department of Agriculture is to be notified to do the investigation. The Department has never had the powers to file criminal charges. In the past, the Department has recommended that charges be filed and the local or NJSPCA has filed the paperwork.

Lesniak’s bill, does not specifically address how agricultural animal cruelty investigations would be handled.

State Department of Agriculture spokesman Jeff Wolfe previously said the NJDA will assist in all efforts to address issues cited in the SCI report as it pertains to farm animals.

Lesniak’s bill garnered support from several animal welfare groups but was opposed by the NJSPCA.

The vote in the Senate was 29 in favor, none against with 11 not voting. The Assembly voted 63-0 in favor with four not voting.

Once the bill is signed into law some parts will go into effect immediately, others will be implemented in four or seven months. There are also other time periods in which municipalities have to comply.

The Office of Legislative Services (OLS) estimates that counties and municipalities may see an undetermined increase in costs from assuming responsibility for enforcement of animal cruelty and welfare laws. However, the municipalities may also see an increase in revenue from fines as a result. 

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