By Nikki Ross email@example.com
Daytona Beach Police Officer Heather May stood over a cage containing a dead black and white cat. She pulled out her phone and photographed the scene from near and far, making sure to get every possible angle.
She scribbled a few notes on to her pad and made her way back toward the office, perhaps comforted somewhat to know that this cat, at least, had been euthanized and was not the victim of a cruelty case.
“There are a lot of crimes against animals that law enforcement officers don’t know how to handle,” she said after the taking part in a class about animal cruelty cases. “We are learning more information on animal cruelty and how they work cases.”
May along with 30 other animal control and law enforcement officers across Florida recently took part in the American Animal Cruelty Investigations School at the Daytona Beach Police Department.
The school, which travels across the country to teach week-long classes twice a month, was formed in 2014 by Doug Eddins, former deputy sheriff for Escambia County, and his wife, Stephanie Eddins, animal control sergeant in Escambia County. Because of their passion to make a difference with the students, they also teach various segments of the classes.
“AACIS teaches a total of 15 different courses, all targeted towards animal cruelty investigations,” Eddins said. “We train over 1,000 officers a year, and we try to integrate the entire criminal justice system.”
AACIS was formed because the Eddins’ saw a gap in the quality of training provided to law enforcement officers and animal control officers.
“Our goal is to bridge that gap,” Stephanie Eddins said. “There is lack of training and we want them to better put cases together so they can be prosecuted successfully.”
The main goals for the course are to improve officer safety, boost professionalism and improve the quality and thoroughness of animal cruelty investigations.
“I remember starting in this field, and there was no information out there on how to deal with animal cruelty cases,” Stephanie Eddins said. “Now there is a flood of information.”
Attendees from Volusia County included the Daytona Beach Police Department and Animal Control, Orange City Animal Control, Volusia County Animal Services and the Deltona Animal Control.
“We reach out to agencies and ask them if they are interested in our course or they find us through our website,” Doug Eddins said. “We are already booked through half of next year.”
He does as much hands-on training as possible for each of the sessions he teaches. For the Volusia session, he obtained euthanized cats from Halifax Humane Society to make mock animal cruelty scenes.
“The more real you make the training, the more the officers retain the knowledge,” Eddins said. “Stress during training makes working a real case much easier.”