Full Title Name:  Overview of Humane Societies and Enforcement Powers

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Christopher A Pierce Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2011 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal and Historical Center

In many states, humane societies are given police powers to enforce animal cruelty laws. This Article explains the different ways that state legislatures vest police powers to humane societies.

The amount of law enforcement authority granted to humane societies differs drastically among the states. Most states do not grant humane societies any extraordinary police powers. However, a sizeable amount of states fall on the other side of the spectrum and grant humane society agents full police powers to enforce animal cruelty laws. The states’ grants of power can be classified into five categories. This Article titles these categories as the ordinary rights approach, animal rescue approach, limited law enforcement approach, law enforcement approach, and community policing approach.

The majority of jurisdictions use the ordinary rights approach. With this approach, humane societies have the same rights and powers as an ordinary citizen. Essentially, the humane societies have no police powers and are relegated to performing their traditional functions of educating the community and managing animal shelters. In these states, any laws affecting humane societies are primarily limited to the regulation of shelter activities such as euthanasia.

A few states use an animal rescue approach. These states allow humane society representatives to work jointly with law enforcement to combat animal cruelty. At the crime scene, the humane society representative serves the purpose of providing care to abused and neglected animals while the police officer handles the law enforcement responsibilities. Thus, the humane society representatives are limited to tasks such as seizing the animals and investigating animal cruelty. This approach is different from the ordinary rights approach because the humane society representatives are active in the field even though their police powers are still limited.

The next approach is the limited law enforcement approach. Under this approach, humane society agents are given more police powers than the animal rescue approach but not all the powers granted to a police officer. Although states within this category differ as to the police powers granted to humane society agents, these states generally do not grant the most substantial police powers, such as the arrest power. Instead, agents may have the authority to investigate animal cruelty, conduct searches, and seize animals.

The law enforcement and community policing approaches vest the most police power to humane society agents. Under the law enforcement approach, humane society agents are granted all the police powers of a uniformed officer for animal cruelty investigations. These powers include seizing animals, investigating animal abuse, executing search warrants, issuing citations, and arresting offenders. By granting more police powers, these states are also more likely to develop detailed regulatory regimes for training and oversight of humane society agents. For instance, Pennsylvania devotes a whole chapter of their code to humane society police officers. Pennsylvania law expressly requires initial training for all agents, continuing education, and additional training for agents carrying a firearm.

The final approach is the community policing approach, which is only used in Indiana. Instead of granting police powers to humane society agents, Indiana requires an active duty police officer to work as a representative of the local humane society. Thus, the active duty police officer retains all police powers found under the law enforcement approach yet the police officer investigates animal cruelty violations and enforces animal cruelty laws at the behest of the humane society. Although Indiana is currently the only state to designate an active duty officer to work with a humane society, other states, like Hawaii, deputize humane society members.

Besides determining which police powers to grant to humane societies, jurisdictions also have to decide the governmental actor who will regulate this grant of power. These actors vary among the jurisdictions and can include governors, mayors, county commissioners, city council members, administrative bodies, sheriffs, and circuit court judges. In some jurisdictions, the governmental actor’s role is limited to the initial grant of power. The actor appoints or reviews a candidate for service as a humane society agent. Other state systems are far more comprehensive and closely monitor individuals who are granted police powers.

States with the law enforcement approach often allow humane society agents to carry and use firearms in the execution of their duties. For instance, California creates two categories of humane society agents—one category is able to carry a firearm. The appointing humane society must develop a comprehensive firearm policy and instruct the agent about the policy. Further, the agent must complete ongoing weapons training and range qualifications every six months. Other states that grant humane society agents the power to carry firearms are far less prescriptive with the agents’ training.

Similar to firearm training, many states require certification and training for other aspects of the agent’s position.   The training may vary in subject matter.   Generally, the training focuses on the legal use of law enforcement authority and appropriate methods to address animal cruelty cases.

In summary, there is significant variance in the amount of authority granted to humane societies and the amount of regulation. Typically, states that grant the most police powers are more likely to regulate the humane society agents. Governmental regulation may be found in the state’s criminal code and enforced by actors within all levels and branches of government.


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