As you recall, Governor Christie signed amendments to the New Jersey Animal Cruelty Statutes that repealed the long-standing authority of the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to enforce the animal cruelty statutes in the State, effective 2018. Repealed by L.2017, c. 331, § 35 . . .
Those amendments shifted enforcement of these laws under the umbrella of county prosecutors, who have specific statutory mandates, set forth in NJSA 4:22-14.4:
“a. Each county prosecutor shall:
(1) designate any municipal or county prosecutor as the animal cruelty prosecutor of the county, and may designate any assistant animal cruelty prosecutor as needed, who shall investigate, prosecute, and take other legal action as appropriate for violations of any provision of article 2 of chapter 22 of Title 4 of the Revised Statutes, and who may serve in such capacity on a part time basis if the responsibilities of the position allow;
(2)(a) designate, in consultation with the county sheriff, a county law enforcement officer to serve as the chief humane law enforcement officer of the county, and may designate any other law enforcement officer under the supervision of the chief humane law enforcement officer, who shall assist with investigations, arrest violators, and otherwise act as an officer for detection, apprehension, and arrest of offenders against the provisions of article 2 of chapter 22 of Title 4 of the Revised Statutes.”
Training of law enforcement officers who are enforcing these laws is also required pursuant to 4:22-11.11.
“a. The Police Training Commission, in collaboration with the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Attorney General, shall develop or approve a training course for animal protection law enforcement, which shall include but need not be limited to instruction in:
(1) the law, procedures, and enforcement methods and techniques of investigation, arrest, and search and seizure, specifically in connection with violations of State and local animal cruelty laws and ordinances;
(2) information and procedures related to animals, including animal behavior and traits and evaluation of animals at a crime scene;
(3) methods to identify and document animal abuse, neglect, and distress; and
(4) investigation of animal fighting.”
Reporting requirements were also specified by statute for municipal law enforcement officers who must report to the animal cruelty prosecutor, who, in turn must report to the State Attorney General the following information pertaining to animal cruelty law enforcement in the county for the most recently concluded State fiscal year:
“(1) the number of complaints received from each municipality and from the county society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, as applicable, for each violation of any provision of article 2 of chapter 22 of Title 4 of the Revised Statutes;
(2) the number of complaints investigated;
(3) the number of complaints prosecuted or otherwise litigated;
(4) the number of animals adjudged forfeited;
(5) the number of animals returned to the owner;
(6) proceeds from fines collected for violations of any provision of article 2 of chapter 22 of Title 4 of the Revised Statutes; and
(7) as applicable, any policy recommendations or concerns related to animal cruelty law enforcement in the county, or as described by a municipal humane law enforcement officer in the annual report required pursuant to paragraph (5) of subsection 4:22-14.7. Duties of animal cruelty prosecutors.
Those reports from FY2019-FY2021, submitted to the Attorney General by all 21 counties in New Jersey, reveal that complaints received are largely investigated and when appropriate, summons are issued and offenders are prosecuted. A summary of the reported data includes:
4717 complaints were received (some reports did not specify the number but referred to a list of cases or counts issued to subsections of the animal cruelty act);
4544 complaints were investigated; and
621 complaints were prosecuted.
The number of animal adjudicated forfeited was indicated when known, but comments suggest that this data must be further characterized to separate numbers of animal seized during animal cruelty enforcement from those voluntarily forfeited or abandoned for other reasons.
The fines collected were not always reported, because some reporting entities said they did not have access to that data.
Of the 59 reports submitted, only 11 included recommended policy recommendations.
The breakdown of violations reported by section of the cruelty statute revealed:
- 1956 for 4:22-17(a);
- 591 for 4:22-17(c);
- 264 for 4:22-17.2;
- 194 for 4:22-17.3;
- 91 for 4:22-17.4;
- 375 for 4:22-17.5;
- 41 for 4:22-18;
- 20 for 4:22-19;
- 3 for 4:22-19.3;
- 129 for 4:22-20;
- 2 for 4:22-21;
- 3 for 4:22-22;
- 32 for 4:22-25.1;
- 2 for 4:22-25.3;
- 1 for 4:22-25.4;
- 2 for 4:22-25.5;
- 61 for 4:22-26;
- 3 for 4:22-59; and
- 0 for 4:22-19.1, 19.2, 23, 24
Observations obtained from these reports provide for the following recommendations that would enhance reporting and determine whether anything more is needed to understand current enforcement before additional amendments of this statute is warranted.
- Clarify when reporting how many and which violations were issued per case, so a better understanding of the number of cases involving which violations were prosecuted.
- Remove the civil provisions from reporting or indicate where the violations were redundant with criminal violations.
- Require reporting of subsections of the sections included in the current reporting to further clarify what violations are occurring. For example, 4:22-17(a) includes multiple potential violations and clarity would help identify where to focus enforcement and training.
- Request that the Attorney General meeting with county animal cruelty prosecutors to review enforcement protocols and procedures and recommend methods to harmonize enforcement across the State, if indicated.
There is no evidence that the newly enacted enforcement provisions of this statute are not effective in prosecuting applicable animal cruelty violations.