This year, for the first time, the FBI will track animal abuse the same way it tracks crimes such as homicide, arson, and assault. After years of lobbying, the bureau agreed in 2014 to make animal cruelty a Class A felony with its own category, and started tracking cases this year, the Washington Post reports. Previously, animal cruelty crimes were reported to the FBI as "other." The change will allow animal rights advocates to easily see whether abuse is going up or down, and it could even alert authorities to criminals who might eventually turn to violent crime against people: The deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs' Association backed the change when he learned that many serial killers are animal abusers first. Collecting animal abuse data could help "flag" future violent offenders, as many as 70% of whom may have abused animals first, the Christian Science Monitor reports.
Animal cruelty, organized into four categories (simple or gross neglect, intentional abuse and torture, animal sexual abuse, and organized abuse like dogfighting and cockfighting), will have its own category within the National Incident-Based Reporting System, but actually reporting to NIBRS is voluntary, so animal rights advocates must convince local law enforcement agencies to do so. Once in the NIBRS, law enforcement and animal rights advocates will be able to access the age, criminal history, and location of convicted animal abusers, and having enough data could help authorities to see trends or notice "hotspots" of activity on which they should focus resources. "When the FBI says animal cruelty is important and we are going to track it, it sends a message to others in law enforcement and the community at large saying ‘pay attention to this,'" says a senior adviser at the Animal Welfare Institute, which worked with the FBI on making the change. (Read more FBI stories.)