Cockfighting crackdown

If South Carolina wants to put an end to cockfighting, it needs tougher laws against this bloodsport.

Any doubt that cockfighting continues to thrive in parts of the state should have been laid to rest after the raid in northwestern York County Sunday. In an operation they called "Coop Bowl," five law enforcement agencies made 33 arrests during the raid.

They also seized about 30 roosters, one dead and two injured, plus more than $4,000 in cash. The roosters had metal spurs attached to their claws, and evidence indicated they had been injected with a stimulant to make them more aggressive.

Cockfighting is a cruel exploitation of animals that often are coerced to fight to the death. Cockfights also traditionally involve gambling, often with thousands of dollars changing hands.

In short, this is a serious crime. But the penalty for cockfighting is a misdemeanor offense with a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine or 30 days in jail. As some critics have noted, a $1,000 fine can be written off as the cost of doing business.

Consider that five law enforcement agencies -- the County Sheriff's Office, the State Law Enforcement Division, the Multijurisdictional Drug enforcement Unit, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the York Police Department and a canine unit -- were involved in this bust. Officers had been working on the case for three weeks. And when some of the suspects scattered, a SLED helicopter and a DNR aircraft were dispatched to track them down.

All that for a misdemeanor crime.

In 2006, state lawmakers sought to stiffen criminal penalties for staged animal fights, including cockfighting, dogfighting and hog-dogging. While both dogfighting and hog-dogging now are felonies, tougher penalties for cockfighting -- which would have made a third offense a felony with a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison -- were weakened in conference committee.

Thankfully, Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, has introduced new legislation this session to make cockfighting a penalty. The state needs a better deterrent, especially considering the gambling and drug use associated with this practice.

The state made strides in cracking down on dogfighting and hog-dogging. It's high time we did the same for cockfighting.

We hope lawmakers will support the effort to end a practice that has no place in a civilized society.