Statement: “State law unfortunately views [cockfighting] only as a misdemeanor whereas most states regard it as a felony,” Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said Aug. 2 at a county board meeting.
Analysis: Cockfighting pits roosters against each other in a battle to the death with blades attached to their legs. Organizers collect bets on the match, profiting from gamblers who choose the losing rooster.
In California, it’s a misdemeanor to participate in a cockfight as a spectator or as an owner of a rooster. And true to Slater-Price’s statement, that’s not the case in most other states, including those surrounding California. This survey by the Humane Society last year lists 35 states with felonies in the books for first-time offenders.
Slater-Price cited the comparison during Tuesday’s meeting, where the supervisors advanced a proposal to limit the number of roosters allowed on different property sizes. Here’s the full context of Slater-Price’s statement:
Cockfighting is deplorable. It’s a barbaric practice and state law unfortunately views this only as a misdemeanor whereas most states regard it as a felony and for that reason San Diego County has become a Mecca for cockfighting.
The proposal would prohibit having more than one rooster on properties smaller than half an acre and up to 20 roosters on properties larger than five acres. It would exempt commercial poultry farms, schools and animal shelters and would only apply to rural unincorporated areas that the supervisors oversee for land use purposes.
County authorities who investigate animal abuse say the new rules would make it easier to obtain search warrants and break up cockfighting rings. By observing an unlawful number of roosters from public view, an investigator could more easily obtain a warrant to search the entire property for evidence of cockfighting.
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In recent years, the county’s Department of Animal Services has issued more citations for cockfighting here in an effort to curb what animal rights activists call a growing problem across the state. Jennifer Fearing, a state director with the Humane Society, told California Watch earlier this year that cockfighting organizers and spectators are increasingly coming to California from other states with harsher laws.
“When law enforcement raids a cockfighting derby, they see license plates from all sorts of different states,” Fearing said. “We’ve even heard about people moving to California because the cockfighting laws are weaker than in their jurisdiction.”
Explaining its support of San Diego’s proposal to limit roosters, county staff also cited the draw of gamblers from other states. “Because cockfighting is a felony in the states surrounding California, people who engage in cockfighting are naturally drawn to our region where the consequences are less severe,” staff reported.
But whether San Diego County has actually become “a Mecca” for cockfighting as Slater-Horn claims is not entirely clear. Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, is commonly used in the English language to describe a center of activity sought by people with a common interest.
A survey this year by the Humane Society found more cockfighting incidents involving law enforcement in Los Angeles (14) and Riverside (12) counties between 2008 and 2011 than San Diego County (seven). The local incidents involved more than 1,400 birds.
Public officials and advocacy groups in other states also claim to be cockfighting Meccas while arguing for harsher penalties. A quick online search found recent articles making the same claim in Alabama, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
We rated this statement based only on the claim that we could Fact Check — the comparison of state laws. We excluded Slater-Price’s reference to Mecca because the comparison is imprecise and its accuracy unclear. Even if law enforcement statistics showed more cases of cockfighting in San Diego than elsewhere, that wouldn’t necessarily define San Diego as the heart of cockfighting. It could simply mean that law enforcement officials are paying more attention to the issue here.
Since California punishes first-time cockfighting offenders with a misdemeanor and most other states punish with a felony, we called Slater-Price’s statement True. If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please explain why in comments section below.
A hat tip to the North County Times, which published Slater-Price’s quote in this Aug. 2 story about the proposed rooster ordinance.
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