116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
They are among the animal abuse and neglect cases reported to Cedar Rapids police so far this year — a year that to date has seen more arrests for the offenses than in the entire four previous years.
In 2020, police investigated four cases of animal abuse, three of which were referred to animal care and control for further investigation. Police exhausted all leads in the fourth case and were unable to make an arrest.
In 2019, Cedar Rapids police investigated two animal abuse cases and one animal neglect case. In 2018, police investigated no animal abuse cases, and in 2017 police investigated two animal abuse and two animal neglect cases.
Of the seven cases between 2017 and 2019, two resulted in arrests and criminal charges, while the remainder were referred to animal control for further investigation.
Depending on the findings, animal control investigations can result in citations for municipal violations, which usually includes a fine.
Animal control cases
While the Cedar Rapids department has handled more cases than usual this year, data from Cedar Rapids Animal Care & Control shows cases fluctuate significantly from year to year.
Between Jan. 1 and July 23, animal control has issued nine citations for animal abuse. The year before, it issued 19 animal abuse citations and in 2019 it issued 10. In 2018, animal control issued 24 citations and in 2017, issued 29 — the highest number issued in that five-year period.
Citations, according to Acting Animal Care & Control Program Director Kelly Kelly, result in fines ranging from $65 to $855. The amount an individual gets fined is decided by a judge, Kelly added.
More police involvement
Though the numbers show police have investigated more cases than usual this year, Officer Chris Collins said that doesn’t necessarily mean animal abuse is on the rise in Cedar Rapids. Instead, Collins said it likely indicates police are working with animal control agencies and becoming more involved in animal abuse cases.
“I think we are starting to see that trend — not just in Cedar Rapids, but throughout the state — where law enforcement is becoming more involved in animal abuse cases and referring cases for state charges,” said Preston Moore, Iowa director for the Humane Society of the United States. “And I think the new changes to the state code has something to do with that.”
Collins, a patrol officer of six years with the Cedar Rapids Police Department, works in partnership with animal control on cases that animal control officers believe warrant criminal charges over municipal code infractions.
Under the state code, an animal abuser could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the severity of the case, whereas a municipal infraction would result only in a fine. And, recent changes to the state code strengthened penalties for some of the state’s animal cruelty laws, which are among the weakest in the country.
House File 737
Under House File 737, if an animal was seriously injured or killed as a result of abuse or neglect, the crime would be an aggravated misdemeanor and punishable by up to two years in prison.
Someone convicted of a second animal mistreatment offense would be found guilty of a Class D felony, which carries a five-year prison sentence.
Animal torture, which is defined as “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly inflicting upon an animal severe and prolonged or repeated pain that results in the animal’s suffering and serious injury or death,” is the only animal abuse first-offense that results in a felony charge.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Moore said. “Under the new law, there are a lot more common-sense definitions for offenses, and I think they're a lot more in line with just what the lay person would think these offenses are, and I think there's a lot less confusion from law enforcement and from prosecutors’ offices as well when it comes to bringing charges for these crimes.
“When you look at some of these cases, these are some pretty violent, egregious crimes and the perpetrators need to be held accountable,” he added. “And, it’s no secret that Iowa’s animal welfare laws are among some of the weakest in the county, and I think Iowans are pretty tired of it, law enforcement is pretty tired of it, and I think prosecutors are pretty tired of it. So these changes are at least a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.”
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