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Senate Bill Would End NJSPCA's Powers To Enforce Animal Cruelty Laws

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Proposed legislation would revoke the law enforcement powers of the NJSPCA. Credits: File photo
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A bill that would remove the law enforcement powers of the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) will be up for a vote on Dec. 14 before the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Bill S3558, sponsored by Senator Ray Lesniak, Democrat from Union County, would call 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. “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. Read the report at http://www.nj.gov/sci/pdf/SPCA-FollowUpReport.pdf

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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.

A 1995 law set standards for humane care of livestock (statute P.L.1995, c.311). “From the perspective of New Jersey agriculture, it is paramount that New Jersey law enforcement agencies understand and respect the 1995 law that resulted in Humane Standards that guide livestock practices,” said New Jersey Department of Agriculture spokesman Jeff Wolfe.

The NJDA is concerned that if livestock with contagious disease is seized and then moved because of a cruelty investigation, that disease could be spread to other animals or humans. “It is critical to practice biosecurity measures on the farm to avoid introducing the disease to the outside community. N.J. Certified Livestock Inspectors, housed within the NJDA Division of Animal Health, are experts at distinguishing these diseases and employing biosecurity measures,” Wolfe said.

“The NJSPCA’s direction to consult with certified livestock inspectors is crucial. The NJDA will assist in all efforts to address issues cited in the SCI report. We encourage cooperation with the NJSPCA concerning livestock humane standard issues,” Wolfe said.

Dr. Nancy Halpern, a licensed veterinarian and a practicing attorney, who previously served as the State Veterinarian said “Since the NJSPCA, and possibly county SPCA’s, have historically ignored the notification requirement, which appear to have continued since I left the NJDA in 2011, Senator Lesniak’s proposed amendments should be welcome to the agricultural community in New Jersey. That said, there will continue to be work that is necessary to make sure that anyone enforcing animal cruelty statutes in New Jersey partners with NJDA to ensure that cases involving agricultural animals are properly investigated. That should include the education that law enforcement receives about such investigations. NJDA has historically been involved with that training, which I hope will continue, despite the fact that Lesniak’s bill does not mention NJDA.”

In New York City the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals handled cruelty investigations until a few years ago. The city police now handle animal cruelty cases in cooperation with the ASPCA. The NYPD and ASPCA citywide partnership was launched in 2014. Under the arrangement, the police respond to complaints and the ASPCA takes care of any animals seized. Since its launch, there have been triple digit increases in arrests and animals treated, according to the ASPCA.

There is no affiliation between the NJSPCA, local SPCAs and the ASPCA.

Lesniak’s bill has gained support from several animal welfare groups but is opposed by the NJSPCA.

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