Kane In Your Corner: NJSPCA law enforcement practices questioned

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An exclusive Kane in Your Corner investigation has uncovered significant law enforcement issues at the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which enforces the state’s animal cruelty laws. Numerous callers say their complaints go unreturned. And cases have been sitting in the NJSPCA’s computer system for years, with no indication any investigation has happened. The investigation comes in the wake of previous Kane In Your Corner reports on financial irregularities at the NJSPCA.

Carl Shepherd still mourns his two dogs, who he was forced to board in a kennel after a fire consumed his Jersey City home. Both animals died at the kennel last year, and Shepherd called the NJSPCA repeatedly to plead for an investigation.

“I heard very little,” Shepherd says. “I was always the one making the calls to find out what was going on.”

Shepherd says he called repeatedly from 2016 into this year. The NJSPCA eventually became so tired of his calls that an officer left a voicemail for him this month, telling to him to stop. 

"There's no reason for you to continue to call,” the officer can be heard saying. “The investigator has been assigned to your case, he's conducting the investigation…your complaint is an active case.”

But Shepherd’s complaint is not an active case, NJSPCA records show. It wasn’t created until May 1, the same week the NJSPCA told him to stop calling. And the case is still listed as “new.” There is no investigator assigned.

Nancy Kennedy called the NJSPCA three times in 2015 to report suspected dogfighting near her home in Jackson. She says a dispatcher “said they would definitely call [me] back tomorrow morning,” Kennedy says. 

Two years later, she’s still waiting for that call. Kennedy’s case is officially listed as “active,” but there is no indication any investigation has occurred; the investigating officer has not entered any notes into the case file.

These are not isolated incidents. Many active NJSPCA case files have blank or incomplete narratives.  Seventy-five cases, more than 10 percent of the NJSPCA’s current active caseload, are assigned to officers who are no longer on the job. Narratives on those cases show no progress since the original investigator left. 

In addition, records show the NJSPCA is sometimes slow to take the first step. A total of 137 cases, some dating back almost two years, are still marked “assigned," despite an NJSPCA policy that assigned cases must be activated by the investigator within 24 hours. Fifty-three others, dating back to January, are still marked “new.” New cases are supposed to be assigned by shift commanders within 24 hours.

Nancy Halpern, the former New Jersey state veterinarian and now an attorney specializing in animal law, calls Kane In Your Corner’s findings “a great concern,” adding, “If there's a legitimate concern and they've been alerted, (the NJSPCA) should do an investigation promptly.”  

The NJSPCA declined to be interviewed. In a written statement, spokesman Matt Stanton downplayed the blank case files, saying “the reality is many NJSPCA officers update cases after completion." 

However, Kane In Your Corner contacted more than a dozen complainants in those cases. All said they had never received a phone call about their complaint, which ranged from dogfighting, to dogs being repeatedly kicked or beaten, to animals denied food and water.

Stanton also insists that “the NJSPCA does not always contact every complainant” and that “frequently” the complainant is never contacted at all. But multiple current and former NJSPCA officers and supervisors say officers are constantly reminded to keep narratives updated, and say calling the complainant is the first thing they’re advised to do.

Halpern says the investigation demonstrates that enforcing animal welfare law should not be left to armed volunteers. "If we're really concerned about animal welfare, we need to step up the game and require law enforcement - professional law enforcement - to investigate," she says.

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