SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) — San Diego County officials unveiled a new task force Wednesday aimed at fighting animal abuse.

The Animal Cruelty Prosecution Unit will work closely with law enforcement officers, the Department of Animal Services and the San Diego Humane Society to investigate cases across the county.

Officials say since 2014 the district attorney's office has prosecuted about 250 animal abuse-related cases.

Interim District Attorney Summer Stephan says animal abuse is typically an indicator of other violence in a household.

"We know there's at least a 13% connection between victims that suffer from domestic violence that the animals in that home are also being abused," said Stephan.

The unit will reportedly persecute cases "vertically" meaning one prosecutor will handle each case from beginning to end.

Officials cite "early intervention, community education, and public awareness" as keys for a successful roll-out of the new unit.

“The creation of the Animal Cruelty Unit is an important step in holding people accountable for their actions,” said Dan DeSousa, Director of the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services. “Together with the animal control and humane officers, the District Attorney’s Office will now help protect those without a voice, namely the animals in our communities.”

A release by Stephan's office outlined how violence to animals can be a predictor that an abuser may become violent to people; it said in part:

Studies show that animal abuse is more prevalent in homes that experience child abuse and domestic violence, and 43 percent of school shooters have animal abuse in their background. Often, animal abuse crimes also have a nexus to mental illness. Since 2014, the District Attorney’s Office has prosecuted 248 animal cruelty-related cases, many of which resulted in lengthy prison sentences for defendants with previous criminal histories.

animal cruelty infographic
animal cruelty infographic

An infographic displayed during the announcement shows stats about animal abuse in San Diego County.