At the end of last week, I had a sudden onslaught of e-mails and questions about the Harris County District Attorney's Office recent decision to abolish the Animal Cruelty Division. I got a call for commentary from a local reporter. My wife asked me about it because she had received an email from Barrio Dogs, a stray dog advocacy group she is a member of. Another friend asked me about it because she got an e-mail from the SPCA.
My response was the same to everyone: Calm Down.
The structure of the District Attorney's Office has absolutely nothing to do with what crimes they will or will not prosecute. Mike Anderson made it very clear when he was running for Office that as long as a law is on the books, he plans on prosecuting it. Just because he dissolves a particular division doesn't mean he is going to cease trying those types of cases.
As I pointed out to the reporter I spoke to, Pat Lykos was a savvy politician and she knew that you just couldn't go wrong by promoting a division that everyone could get behind. She touted the fact that she had an Animal Cruelty Division at the District Attorney's Office and animal lovers across the county rejoiced.
Who wouldn't get behind the idea of a specialized division that prosecuted the type of people who hurt animals?
But here's the deal, folks -- you don't have to have a specialized division to prosecute every crime.
There are certain types of crimes that necessitate a specialized division to handle them. White Collar crimes demand prosecutors that know how to interpret voluminous financial records. Child Abuse crimes demand prosecutors that know how to interpret forensic examinations of children and know how to deal with child witnesses. Vehicular crimes demand prosecutors that can understand accident reconstruction reports and intoxilyzer results.
In other words, specialized divisions of the District Attorney's Office should be based on those types of crimes that demand specialized knowledge.
Prior to 2006, there wasn't a specialized division that handled animal cruelty. The rank and file prosecutors of each court handled those types of cases. It was just part of the repertoire of what we all handled in the court. If someone harmed an animal, a prosecutor tried the case. They were straight-forward and not all that difficult to handle.
As it turns out, getting fired up about prosecuting people who hurt animals is not that difficult, either.
I understand that it is easy to get alarmed when an animal advocacy group announces that Mike Anderson's District Attorney's Office is abolishing the Animal Cruelty Division. The reality, however, is that he is trying to stabilize the financial disaster that he inherited from his predecessor. Part of that plan is consolidating specialty divisions and keeping the courts running effectively.
My advice to those who are worried about the ramifications of the dissolution of the Animal Cruelty Division is simple: just hang on for a minute. If you feel that people are getting away with harming animals because of this decision, let's talk then. I don't think that's going to happen.
In the meantime, don't make the snap decision that a shuffling of personnel means the failure to prosecute a crime that is near and dear to so many of our hearts.