SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - There's a new power force focusing on a handful of crimes with one common link: animal abuse.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley has put together a special task force in hopes of cracking down on people who hurt or neglect animals, then spiral into other more violent crimes.
"I'm deeply concerned about animals that are hurt," said Dudley. "I'm also concerned about people that use the threat of animal abuse in order to control vulnerable victims."
Dudley recently put together the Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force, with a focus on the overlap into domestic violence, elder and child abuse.
Nearly a dozen local agencies are involved, including: Santa Barbara police and fire, CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), both the city and county branches of the Humane Society, Adult Protective Services, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office and a host of others.
In all, 20 representatives are on the force, including Anthony Nunez with Animal Control. "We respond to allegations of abuse almost everyday," said Nunez. "It could be someone hitting a dog, leaving a dog in a hot vehicle on a hot day with the windows up, failing to provide vet care and the animal is suffering."
Jan Glick, Director of Santa Barbara County Humane Society is thrilled with the joint effort between agencies. "Bringing the resources together to address those collectively is going to be a really good thing for the community."
Research shows 75 percent of violent offenders abused or killed animals when they were younger. Dudley hopes education and prevention will knock that number down, as well as training and outreach. Members of the Humane Society and CALM will team up and head into classrooms and educate children about animal abuse and when to report it.
"I can't tell you how many times in the 23 years I've been doing this work where a child has said, '"I didn't tell anyone because they said they'd hurt my dog, my cat, my rabbit."' So a child will withstand being abused -- sexually, physically -- in order to protect their animal," Dudley said.
The task force will equate to "boots on the ground" as Dudley puts it, to stomp out a crime that has no socioeconomic boundaries.