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Animal officer can't issue citations

| Monday, March 9, 2009

A Fayette County humane agency has gained approval for a temporary humane police officer, but the officer has no authority to write citations or perform police duties because he lacks mandatory state training.

Jeffrey W. Hughes of German Township was appointed a temporary police officer/humane agent on Feb. 4. Judge Gerald R. Solomon authorized the appointment, which is valid for six months, at the request of the Fayette Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The society's attorney, Gary J. Frankhouser of Uniontown, acknowledged Friday that state law doesn't provide for temporary humane police officers. He said the SPCA sought the appointment out of necessity because there are no other humane officers working in Fayette County.

"The townships need these people," Frankhouser said, noting that without an officer on staff, the agency is hampered in its ability to answer calls.

Fayette is one of only three counties in the state that have no active humane police officers listed on a statewide registry maintained by the Agriculture Department. Two officers who were appointed in 2007 had been working for the Fayette SPCA, but they left the agency several months ago.

Robert Cerjanec, chairman of the SPCA's board of directors, could not be reached for comment regarding the circumstances behind the officers' departures.

In the petition that sought Hughes' temporary appointment, the SPCA indicated humane police officers are authorized to initiate criminal proceedings and to act as police officers in matters involving animal cruelty. Frankhouser said Hughes is aware he does not have that authority because he lacks the required state training.

If Hughes encounters a situation requiring the issuance of a citation, he'll have to ask state or municipal police to write it.

"We understand the authority he has, and we won't overstep that," Frankhouser said. "He won't do any police work until he gets that certification."

A search of magisterial court records since Hughes' appointment turned up none written by Hughes.

The training courses became a prerequisite for newly appointed humane police officers with the passage of Act 205 of 2004, which repealed an earlier law governing appointments of humane police officers.

Chris Ryder, spokesman with the state's Agriculture Department, said the training is required prior to an individual having been sworn in as a humane police officer. The law contains no provisions for temporary humane police officers, he said. Although Solomon approved Hughes' appointment, there is no record on file with the prothonotary's office indicating he has been sworn in.

A provision in the old law that allowed for temporary humane police officers did not carry over into the new law, said Anne Irwin of the Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania.

"There was a section that said if an agency had no other officers, it could have someone temporarily appointed for six months," Irwin said. "That would have taken somebody over to the next training offered, but when the law was updated in 2004, that provision for temporary appointment was removed."

The new law has forced other agencies to wait until after individuals have taken the mandatory training before seeking to have them designated as humane police officers, Irwin said. Some agencies, she said, have held off seeking the appointments for as long as a year because of the requirement.

Irwin's agency oversees scheduling of the state-mandated training. She said she has had retired police officers take the courses prior to seeking official appointments as humane police officers.

The 60-hour course is given in two parts, each consisting of four days training in Harrisburg and Penn State. Irwin said topics that are covered include Pennsylvania animal cruelty laws, the courtroom process and Constitutional rights.

A heavy emphasis is placed on agricultural animals, she said, because lawmakers in 2004 found many humane officers lacked sufficient knowledge in that area.

"The concern was that officers might not know what's normal for farm animals," Irwin said.

A Fayette County judge came to that same conclusion much earlier when turning down a 1993 request by the Fayette SPCA to have then-employee Autumn Fike appointed a humane police officer. Judge William Franks found that while Fike had knowledge of the proper care of small animals, she lacked "sufficient knowledge in the area of animal husbandry and normal farming practices to properly enforce" the state's cruelty statutes.

Franks went on to point out the law governing such appointments at the time was vague. He suggested lawmakers enact "specific legislation to guide the county" on the proper procedure for the appointments.

Hughes' resume indicates he formerly worked as a sheriff's deputy, state prison guard and school police officer. He has volunteered with humane groups and is a member of the SPCA's board, but he has no formalized training in the enforcement of animal cruelty laws.

The next available training course for humane police officers is scheduled to begin in May in Harrisburg. Frankhouser said Hughes is expected to attend.

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