John Thompson was a late bloomer in showing his soft side. He never even had a dog until he brought Mr. PO home as a gift to his wife. Thompson has become the nation’s highest ranking law enforcement official fighting animal cruelty and is the first to admit that Mr. PO is the love of his life.
Despite spending 30 years in law enforcement and rising to become the Deputy Executive Director of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), Thompson never gave much thought to animal cruelty. Thompson started his career as a military police canine handler; yet, like so many cops, he considered animal cruelty a problem for animal control.
Thompson’s world changed dramatically when his daughter Nikki gave him an article she had written for the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys titled, The Link Between Animal Abuse and Other Violent Behavior. Thompson’s immediate reaction was, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He found himself staying up at night reading article after article, wondering, “How did I not know this?”
Starting in the early 1980s, studies have linked animal cruelty to violent street crime and interpersonal violence. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies have recognized the high correlation of animal abuse in adolescence and the most violent offenders, including serial killers and rapists. In addition, more than half the perpetrators of school shootings abused animals. More commonly, as many as 85% of women in domestic violence shelters have reported that their family pets have been threatened or abused. Despite this overwhelming evidence, most law enforcement officers are rarely trained to respond to animal cruelty and Thompson has made it his life’s mission to change the paradigm.
Shortly after this epiphany, Thompson was invited to a public safety listening session on animal cruelty at the Department of Justice. Representatives from every national animal welfare organization attended and Thompson was struck by the lack of law enforcement officials at the table and the lack of coordination among the national groups. Thompson used his clout at the NSA and created the National Coalition on Violence Against Animals (NCOVAA), a multidisciplinary coalition of local, state and national organizations that seeks to reduce violence against animals and raise awareness to its link to human violence.
While NCOVAA includes representatives from multiple disciplines, Thompson also sought to provide a resource for law enforcement officials and created the National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse (NLECAA), which seeks not only to educate, but also to encourage officers to enforce animal cruelty laws.
As if this weren’t enough, Thompson may have provided the tipping point for convincing the FBI to add animal cruelty crimes to the FBI National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS). While organizations such as the Animal Welfare Institute had lobbied for over a decade for their inclusion, Thompson was an insider, serving on the Advisory Policy Board of the FBI. As of January 1st, animal cruelty crimes will now be reported as a Group A offense and will include simple/gross neglect, intentional abuse and torture, organized abuse and animal sexual abuse.
Thompson is not resting on his laurels and is also working to reduce the number of officer involved dog shootings. Working with the COPS Office at the Department of Justice, Thompson has helped procure funding to train officers at police academies. It’s not a hard sell, but Thompson is on a mission to change an engrained culture. Recognizing that a picture is worth a thousand words, Thompson knows that the Show Your Soft Side® campaign can help spread the message and change the way law enforcement thinks about these issues.
Thanks, Mr. PO, for changing a tough cop. And thanks, John Thompson, for being a game changer for the animals.
Written by SYSS Board Member and NCOVVA member, Caroline Griffin, with photography by Virgil Ocampo.