Acres launches new crime investigation unit for animal cruelty

JOY FANG Today Online 7 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE — A new dedicated unit to investigate animal cruelty and undergo undercover operations to detect animal crime was launched today (March 7) by wildlife rescue group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), in a bid to increase enforcement against animal abusers.

Announcing this at the 4th Chong Pang Public Forum on Animal Protection Policies, Acres’ chief executive Louis Ng said the Animal Crime Investigation Unit’s role includes investigating animal cruelty and wildlife crime, collating necessary evidence, and preparing the case brief for prosecution by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) in Court. It will also go undercover to detect animal crime and work with authorities on conducting sting operations to nab offenders, he said.

The unit, which will be operational from Monday, will comprise four of its full-time staff who have qualifications in law, psychology, environmental management, life sciences, criminal justice, criminal investigation, forensic psychology and security management. It will be headed by former lawyer Noelle Seet, who has over 11 years of litigation experience, he added.

Mr Ng, who announced in October that he had joined the People’s Action Party, said that the Chong Pang Public Forum has led to “significant progress in the animal protection movement” since it began in 2011.

Achievements include ending the culling of cats in Chong Pang, amending the Animals and Birds Act, Project ADORE - which allows HDB residents to keep one medium-sized mixed breed dog per flat - and the exemption of the first year’s licence fee for dogs released from AVA’s pound to animal welfare groups.

ACRES and Kembangan-Chai Chee Citizen Consultative Committee are also exploring the idea of building an Animal Sanctuary at East Coast Park, and ACRES recently launched the first Trap, Neuter, Release and Management programme on Jurong Island, he noted.

“The last piece of the puzzle in the animal protection movement is enforcement,” he said, adding that many participants in the forum have also called for a higher rate of prosecution of cases of animal cruelty or wildlife crime.

He also noted that statistics showed that the proportion of cases having prosecution action taken compared to the overall number of animal cruelty complaints was low, due to challenges in gathering evidence and getting witnesses to testify.

“We are confident that with this new unit and by working with AVA, we can help bring more offenders to task and ensure that justice is served,” he said.

Ms Seet, who is Head of Campaigns at ACRES, added: “Effective enforcement of the law and just sentences are key to deterring animal cruelty and wildlife crime. I am glad to lead this unit, and hope for greater public participation to bringing an end to animal cruelty and wildlife crime in Singapore.”

ACRES launches Animal Crime Investigation Unit
Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia 7 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE: A new dedicated Animal Crime Investigation Unit has been launched by animal welfare group ACRES.

The unit will investigate animal cruelty and wildlife crime in Singapore by collating evidence and preparing the case brief for prosecution by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) in court. The unit will also go undercover and work with authorities on conducting sting operations to nab offenders.

"It’s really to be the extra eyes and ears out there. So working with AVA, gathering evidence, but really making sure that more offenders are brought to task,” said ACRES Chief Executive Louis Ng.

“I think this has always been a constant theme at our forums, where people always say we have investigated a lot of cases, but very few are prosecuted. So we want to increase the rate, to make sure we send out a very deterrent message - that we take animal crime, wildlife crime very seriously - and we want to make sure that the penalties that we have in the legislation are being meted out as well."

The unit was formed after feedback was received at the Chong Pang Public Forum on Animal Protection Policies over the past five years. The fourth of such forums was held on Saturday (Mar 4), where a dialogue was held with Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam.

Noting that progress has been made over the years, Mr Shanmugam pointed out there were fewer comments this time round. "Over the years, the forum has thrown up many good ideas,” he said.

“And in fact we would say the culmination of that is the animal welfare review committee which was set up by government. And that committee, comprising MPs, animal welfare groups, and NGOs, came up with recommendations - many of which were made at this forum - and then all the recommendations were accepted and it’s now passed into legislation within two years."

But Mr Shanmugam added there is still a long way to go.

About 200 people attended the session and some of the concerns raised included animal abuse, legislation, ownership rules and culling.

"The issue of culling came up frequently again,” said Mr Shamugam, who is also MP for Nee Soon GRC. “The people who are worried about dogs in their neighbourhood want the agencies to do something about it. On the other hand, animal welfare groups feel that you don't necessarily need to rush into culling. What’s the middle ground?

“We are trying our pilot project in Jurong Island - trap, neuter, release, monitor. There is scope for that, I think, to be more widespread. Also for Project Adore, where people - responsible owners - can keep a mid-sized dog in a HDB flat, there is scope to expand that. There is scope to expand the cat ownership programme. We will look at all this."

- CNA/ec

Acres sets up unit to probe animal abuse
Samantha Boh The Straits Times AsiaOne 8 Mar 15;

Rescue group's new unit will gather proof, prepare case brief to prosecute offenders

In many cases of animal abuse, it is the lack of incriminating evidence that proves the stumbling block when prosecuting suspects.

To overcome that, wildlife rescue group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) has set up an animal crime investigation unit, which will be dedicated to investigating animal cruelty and wildlife crime, collating the necessary evidence and preparing the case brief for prosecution in court.

The unit was launched yesterday at a public forum on animal protection policies held at Chong Pang Community Club. It was attended by more than 200 people, including secondary school students, animal welfare groups and members of the public.

"It is a constant theme at our forums. People will say we investigated a lot of cases but few are prosecuted," said Acres chief executive Louis Ng. "We want to increase the rate to make sure we send out a very deterrent message that we take animal crime, wildlife crime, very seriously and we want to make sure the penalties that we have in legislation are meted out as well."

The unit comprises four full-time staff members who have qualifications in areas such as law, environmental management, life sciences and criminal investigation. It will be headed by Ms Noelle Seet, a lawyer with more than 11 years of litigation experience.

During the forum, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam fielded questions from the audience on topics such as the culling of stray dogs and agreed there is a need to be more specific as to what defines animal abuse.

He also said that a pilot programme that lets Housing Board flat owners in Chong Pang keep cats in their homes has been successful in identifying and registering owners.

"Responsible cat ownership can be promoted and we can extend to other parts of (Nee Soon) GRC, not necessarily every constituency at the same time, but where there is a need and where it is possible to achieve it," said Mr Shanmugam, who is also an MP for the GRC. The programme will be rolled out at the other constituencies over the next couple of years.

Cat Welfare Society president Thenuga Vijakumar was happy with the news and noted that the programme encourages responsibility.

Separately, the Wildlife Reserves Singapore and the South-east Asian arm of wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic jointly launched a year-long "You Buy, They Die" campaign yesterday to fight wildlife crime.

It aims to educate the public on the seriousness of wildlife crime and how their buying decisions can help support the conservation of endangered wildlife.