Occupational health and safety among officers who enforce animal laws in the Province of Alberta (Canada): An examination of the risks and rewards

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Worldwide, laws exist to protect animals and to stop them from becoming public threats or nuisances. The officers who enforce animal laws precariously straddle justice and health systems. Nonetheless, these officers rarely receive recognition as skilled professionals, neither in the realm of public health nor in justice. Furthermore, their work is poorly understood in society, and within the academy. My research examined how officers who enforce animal laws perceive the risks and rewards associated with their employment, with a focus on occupational health and safety. To help with mitigating risks to this workforce, I worked closely with two professional associations in the Province of Alberta, Canada. Two tragic events, the death of an officer in the line of duty in 2012 and an assault on an officer in 2014, informed my entire study. Designed as an action research project, this qualitative ethnographic case study included in-depth interviews with officers and managers; intensive participant-observation; first-hand observations in courts of law; and an analysis of legal texts and government policies. Over the course of this study, I engaged in robust knowledge translation and mobilization activities alongside officers to advocate for improvements to their working conditions. My findings suggest that the enforcement of animal laws can contribute to public safety and community well-being. Officers spoke about the societal benefits of their work with pride, yet they consistently felt unsafe and devalued. The main findings with respect to officers’ health and safety were resource inadequacies, insufficient information, poor patterns of communication and intelligence sharing, and a culture of normalized disrespect in the law enforcement hierarchy. Significant opportunities exist in Alberta, and beyond, to improve the working conditions for officers who enforce animal laws in particular, as well as municipal bylaws and provincial statues more generally. Operationally, there is a need for greater inter-agency collaboration within and outside the justice system, consistent intelligence-sharing with other law enforcement agencies, a robust operational safety training program, improved communication with dispatch, and consistent access to personal protective equipment and defensive tools. In the academy, greater attention should be given within criminology as well as in public health to animal laws and their enforcement.
Occupational Health and Safety, Animal Law, Peace Officers, Bylaw Officers, Law Enforcement, Public Health, Pets, Qualitative Research
Rault, E. D. (2019). Occupational health and safety among officers who enforce animal laws in the Province of Alberta (Canada): An examination of the risks and rewards (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from https://prism.ucalgary.ca.