With Canada's first animal cruelty unit, Edmonton police aim to curtail other criminal behaviour
Edmonton Police Service investigated more than 400 incidents of animal cruelty last year
Knowing the link between animal cruelty and other forms of violence, the Edmonton Police Service has formed Canada's first investigation unit dedicated to abusive behaviour toward pets and domestic animals.
"Research has shown there in an unequivocal link between animal cruelty, domestic violence, child and elder abuse investigations," said Staff Sgt. Anna Sinclair in a news release on Tuesday.
"Offenders who abuse animals are likely to commit other violent crimes causing harm to persons and society in general."
The Animal Cruelty Investigation Unit will be headed up by two officers who have spent recent years learning about animal cruelty issues and investigations, then training other EPS members about animal cruelty investigations and the link to broader criminal behaviour.
The unit, which works alongside the city's Animal Care and Control Centre officers, veterinarians and provincial Crown prosecutors, is being watched with interest by municipalities across the country, said Const. Ted Dyck, one of the unit's officers.
"Edmontonians would be quite shocked at the files we're catching and the files we're investigating" about the "very sinister and heinous stuff that people do to animals," Dyck said.
EPS investigated more than 400 incidents of animal cruelty last year, ranging from severe neglect and starvation to physical abuse, puppy mills and bestiality.
In 2017, there were about 270 animal abuse investigations.
Const. Ilka Cunningham said her interest in animal cruelty cases stemmed from a love of animals and the unique legal challenges of the investigations.
"It started with our love for animals and then we realized there's a much bigger picture here and we quickly recognized the link to child abuse, domestic violence," she told a news conference Tuesday.
"It's rarely ever ... just animal abuse. It always affected humans in a way as well."
Animal care and control officers have authority to enforce the city's animal licensing and control bylaw but police involvement is necessary to enforce the provincial Animal Protection Act as well as criminal code offences, she said.
"We do a lot of joint investigations with them, we work with them side by side. Once the criminal threshold is passed, we then are the primary investigators," Cunningham said.
The model is "one-of-a-kind" in Canada but has been long used in the United States and Europe, Cunningham said. Dyck said Edmonton's unit has been called the "gold standard of Canada" by the humane society.
"I'm glad to say that finally Canada is catching on," Cunningham added. "And we are recognizing the violence link which really was the primary reason for this project."
The other violence linked to animal cruelty can include homicide, sexual assault, arson, family violence and child abuse, according to the EPS website
In mid-2019, the Alberta government gave veterinarians a mandate to report suspected animal abuse, prompting the Edmonton Association of Small Animal Veterinarians to start an online petition calling on city police to create a dedicated unit.
The Edmonton Humane Society said the new unit will be a key part of protecting both animals and people.
Animal abuse persists in our community, and we see first-hand in our work caring for animals the unfortunate lasting effects that it can have," the society said in a release.
"With focused, timely attention on these cases by EPS, the lives of both animals and people will be saved."