The news broke this morning that the ASPCA will no longer be the primary agency handling animal cruelty complaints here in New York City, instead returning law enforcement reponsibilities to the NYPD. It may surprise some people to learn that I think that this is a very good thing.
The ASPCA’s recent law enforcement history in NYC is not encouraging. The department is understaffed, underfunded, and overwhelmed. Few complaints are even investigated and even fewer prosecuted. A New York Times investigation in 2007 found that over 50,000 cruelty tips in one year resulted in fewer than 10% being followed up on at all and eventually just 103 arrests. The ASPCA has generally only shown interest in fulfilling their law enforcement duties when it results in positive PR for them – and even then they have a history of killing the victims of cruelty.
I am, at any rate, very uncomfortable with the idea of public police powers being subcontracted out to private agencies, away from the traditional oversight and public accountability of a strictly public agency and subject to the whims of a relatively secretive private organization. It is also a win in terms of the public perception of animal abuse: it is a serious issue and one for the police, not for Sarah McLachlan – and a mandatory mission to be financed with public money, not an optional service left to depend on donations for funding.
So I see this as the beginning of what I hope to be an improvement in the investigation of animal cruelty in New York City. Matthew Bershadker, the ASPCA’s new CEO, took the reins on June first. This is the first bold move I’ve seen from him publicly, assuming this originated from the ASPCA and not from the city. Should he continue to focus on eliminating things the ASPCA does poorly – and hopefully, instead, focusing on the things they do well – things might be looking up there.
In an ASPCA press release, Bershadker said the “NYPD is equipped to do what the ASPCA simply cannot accomplish alone: Incorporate the enforcement of animal cruelty laws into routine, everyday law enforcement work.”
I couldn’t agree more.