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SPCA Inspectors to use CSI skills in bringing animal offenders to justice

Sunday, 3 October, 2010

More offenders against animals can expect to be brought to justice, thanks to an SPCA programme aimed at making its animal inspectorate the first such nationwide organisation anywhere to be fully trained in CSI techniques.

Twenty-five inspectors from across New Zealand took part in a CSI training session and crime scene grave excavation, held this weekend in and around Taupo, under the guidance of leading United States Forensic Entomologist and CSI expert, Dr Jason H Byrd.

Dr Byrd is Educational Programme Inspector at the University of Florida’s William R Maples Centre for Forensic Medicine. He also teaches at the university, which is widely recognised as America’s most prominent institution for developing and teaching animal forensics.

"Proving that a crime has taken place and establishing the identity of the perpetrator are typically even harder when the victim is an animal rather than a human. However, the training and knowledge base developed by Jason Byrd and his colleagues are making a substantial difference to detection and conviction rates in some parts of the United States where they’ve been consistently applied," says the SPCA’s National Chief Executive, Robyn Kippenberger.

"New Zealand animal welfare inspectors have now become part of a fortunate few outside the USA to have benefited from such training. As a result, we’re now well on our way to having the world’s first nationwide network of animal CSI investigators," she says.

Robyn Kippenberger adds that there’s normally a long waiting list for the training sessions Dr Byrd runs, along with the American SPCA’s senior director of veterinary forensics, Melinda Merck, who visited New Zealand in 2007 and 2008, running veterinary forensic and animal CSI trainings for SPCA inspectors and vets.

Part of this weekend’s training involved disinterring eight dead dogs and cats, buried at a site near Ohakune four months ago, in preparation for the crime scene workshop. The inspectors learned how to secure the site, check for and secure potential forensic evidence and then dig up the bodies in a way that did not substantially impair them or compromise their value as evidence admissible in court.

Another focus of the weekend was the protocol of forensic investigation that inspectors need to comply with, to ensure their findings are comprehensive and meet the required level of proof.

"SPCA inspectors have already put their CSI skills to good use in some recent prosecutions. As their skills and experience grow, it should become progressively harder to mistreat animals and get away with it," says Robyn Kippenberger.