Animal rights advocates have for years been calling for the establishment of an animal protection police force, but the proposal has been repeatedly shot down by government officials, citing a lack of resources and personnel.
The issue was brought up by lawmakers in December 2019 and again in April last year before the Taiwan Animal Protection Monitor Network held a conference reiterating the need on Wednesday last week.
Although animal welfare awareness has been growing in Taiwan, animal abuse and mistreatment continue, despite the strengthening of the Animal Protection Act (動物保護法) in 2017, making the need to establish an animal police force more prominent.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party youth councils discussed the issue late last year, and, along with their counterparts from the Taiwan People’s Party and the New Power Party, last week agreed on the establishment of an animal police force.
Animal advocacy groups have said that animal protection officials often lack training in collecting evidence and other police skills, and as they do not work in shifts, they cannot immediately respond to calls at night. Furthermore, they do not have judicial authority and cannot arrest people or forcefully search premises, which can make people question their authority.
Police officers, on the other hand, already handle a large number of responsibilities and might lack the special knowledge or training needed to handle the animals they are trying to protect.
For instance, when animal protection officials in 2019 tried to inspect a cafe that was accused of abusing a pet fox, the owner got angry and shoved them out. The officials had to call the police for backup, and the shop owner was found guilty of contravening the Animal Protection Act.
This is an example of successful cooperation between the two agencies, but that often is not the case: Proponents of an animal police force say the process should be streamlined to increase efficiency, to avoid overlapping duties and agencies passing the buck. For example, when a dog was found poisoned to death, the responding police officer reportedly said it was an animal protection case, while animal protection said it was a criminal case that should be handled by police.
If even the agencies do not know who should handle such cases, how will people know who to call to report animal abuse?
When the issue was brought up last year, the National Police Agency said its police stations are capable of handling such cases — much to the chagrin of already overworked officers.
These examples show that the current system needs to be changed.
However, how an animal police force would be set up remains a question. Wu Chuang-hsien (吳宗憲), a professor at National University of Tainan, said that it could be patterned after the women and children’s protection units at local precincts — but police have repeatedly cited personnel shortages in response to such calls.
Wu also proposed modeling it after the National Police Agency’s Seventh Special Police Corps — but corps members are stationed only in certain areas and limited in number, and would not be able to respond to calls quickly. This defeats the purpose of increasing the efficiency of animal protection.
The issue needs to be dealt with — and quickly. Until a solution is worked out, the government should facilitate more dialogue between the agencies to establish a clearer understanding of responsibilities so that each police officer, protection official and citizen knows how to proceed when responding to animal abuse.
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