NJ animal cruelty cops spent more on legal bills than treating animals, state finds
TRENTON — The NJSPCA strongly refutes a state report issued Friday that calls the independent organization "incapable of adequately fulfilling its core mission."
The report issued by the State Commission of Investigation concludes that many problems found in a report 17 years ago have gotten worse, calling the NJSPCA a "dysfunctional organization."
The SCI called for a complete restructuring of the organization and transferring the enforcement of animal cruelty laws to local government. It also proposed the creation of a task force to consider the NJSPCA's role in future animal welfare protection in New Jersey.
The NJSPCA is a private, nonprofit law enforcement agency charged with handling animal cruelty cases throughout the state. Its officers, who are police-trained and carry weapons, hold statewide police powers and can make arrests related to animal cruelty charges.
The SCI said its report was prompted by mismanagement and abuse of power reported to the SCI and the loss of the NJSCPA's tax exempt status for failing to submit federal tax forms.
Among the conclusions of the report, the NJSPCA:
- Fails to consistently respond to animal cruelty complaints in a timely manner
- "Spends exorbitant sums on legal billings rather than for direct animal care and remains a haven for 'wannabe' cops – some of whom believe they are free to exercise police powers beyond enforcement of the animal cruelty statutes."
- "Has engaged in and tolerated waste and abuse, conflicts of interest and self‐aggrandizement and has routinely taken a cavalier approach to financial and operational accountability – all at the expense of unwitting donors and volunteers whose only motivation is to help abused animals.”
In an email, NJSPCA President Steve Shatkin said the report "reads more like a piece written by a so called investigate reporter for a newspaper" and that the state investigative agency spent a lot of money on a report "to prove themselves right."
He said it's the third time the SCI has called for the NJSPCA to be removed from their law enforcement role.
"Each and every day, millions of dollars in taxpayer funds are wasted in every corner of the state. Yet the SCI appears obsessed with the role and mission of the NJSPCA, a public law enforcement agency that has not received one dollar in taxpayer funds from the State of New Jersey in 150 years," Shatkin said.
He disagreed with the methodology of the SCI report and accused them of "cherry picking" 120 cases. He said that the NJSCA's request for a deputy attorney general to be assigned to handle the organization's legal matters has been denied, forcing the group to use a private attorney. Shatkin said the firm of Levin & Cyphers has served the NJSPCA well.
"What the SCI failed to report is that 90 percent of the cases handled by Levin & Cyphers happen to be the NJSPCA defending frivolous lawsuits filed by county SPCAs after the NJSPCA enforces the provisions of the SPCA Act of 2006," Shatkin wrote.
He noted that the NJSPCA has filed all the necessary tax forms and its nonprofit status was restored retroactively in June.
"Is there corruption and misuse of power at the NJSPCA? Unequivocally not. Are the men and woman of the NJSPCA dedicated to its missions? Each and every day. Can the NJSPCA do better? We can and we will," Shatkin wrote.
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, a supporter of animals and animal rights, told New Jersey 101.5 he supports the findings of the SCI report. He will call for hearings to restructure or replace the NJSPCA.
"The oversight we have provided with three governors, governor's appointees, annual reports to the attorney general have not done an adequate job — quite frankly a bad job — in overseeing its operations," Lesniak said.
The Democrat hoped to have reforms in place by the end of the year "to make sure that animals are not subject to cruelty and the animal abuse laws are enforced and the animals taken into their custody are cared for appropriately."
Legislation sponsored by Republican lawmakers seeks to place the Attorney General's Office in charge of overseeing the NJSPCA.
While the NJSPCA doesn't get direct tax dollars, Lesniak said the organization does receive animal cruelty fines, which helps to fund their operation.
He did praise county SPCAs for the "tremendous work" of their volunteers but said the state organization is a "waste of taxpayer dollars."
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.