Letter: Moving animal services to sheriff’s office would improve response

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 6, 2019

Mahatma Gandhi once stated, “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Over the last several years, beginning with Sheriff Bill Schatzman and continuing with Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough, there have been discussions about moving the responsibilities of Forsyth County Animal Services to the direction and control of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) — a move that would significantly improve the way our animals are treated. Similar efforts have already been completed by many jurisdictions around the country and North Carolina; Durham, Pender and Cabarrus counties are three local examples of this operating model and all have seen many positive results. With the development of the animal services focus group convened by the Forsyth County commissioners, an extensive analysis was completed and a recommendation from the voting members resulted in support for moving the animal services department to the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office.    

If animal services were managed by the sheriff’s office, here are some examples of the kind of improvements we would expect:

  • Enhanced communications and data collection: All animal-related calls for service would be routed through the sheriff’s office 911 Communication Center, which is operational 24 hours per day, for data entry and dispatch. This enhancement will always allow a caller to speak with a person when contacting animal services for a field response issue rather than an automated message directing the caller to call back during normal hours. Using established protocols for calls received, the data collected would include type of call, response time, priority, location, length of time spent, etc.
  • Improved response times: Animal-related calls for service would be dispatched to an available animal services officer or, if no animal services officer were available, a deputy sheriff would be dispatched. Data provided by the animal services department on response times has significant deficiencies, making it impossible to draw reliable conclusions. However, based on the response time data contained in the Animal Services Board-Directed Initiative Report dated February 2019, response times remain a concern. Urgent calls (those with a goal of less than three hours) can still take multiple hours or even a day to be addressed, while the average response time for non-urgent calls (those with a goal of less than 10 hours) is over 33 hours. The average response time for routine calls (those with a goal of less than 48 hours) exceeds eight days.
  • Enhanced public perception: Under the sheriff’s office management, animal services and control officers will become a division of the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office is an accredited law enforcement agency and is revered as a professional entity, lending gravity to animal welfare issues and enhancing public safety. The staff of the newly created animal services division will also receive enhanced training in the area of animal services and technology to more efficiently carry out their responsibilities.
  • Expedited investigations: Many times, criminal investigations can be delayed due to a lack of resources and high call volume. With access to the full investigative resources of the sheriff’s office, animal services personnel would be able to conduct more rapid and thorough investigations into cases of animal cruelty and neglect.
  • Updated technology and enhanced training: Animal services personnel would have access to better technology and resources such as body cameras and access to additional law enforcement databases. Additionally, the training opportunities for staff will be dramatically enhanced, enabling them to sharpen their skills and abilities to effectively combat the situations they encounter.
  • More robust records management: The sheriff’s office records management system has an optional “animal services” module to transfer data from the sheriff’s computer aided dispatch system to mobile data terminals of animal services officers. This would provide full access to the sheriff’s offices databases in conducting animal-related investigations.

Animal services performs the critical role of enforcing animal ordinances, creating a safer community for Forsyth County residents and animals. However, due to current funding levels and staffing limitations in the animal services department, a new model is needed. Shifting management and oversight to the sheriff’s office would better serve our community’s needs and enhance our safety and well-being. Currently, 19 nonprofit organizations that perform financial assistance, animal rescue or animal adoptions in Forsyth County have indicated their support for this proposed change.

Please contact your Forsyth County commissioners in support of this change as they prepare the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

— Caroline Lucas, Jennifer Tierney and Greg Wallis
Fur-Ever Friends of N.C.