Aspen police draft guidelines on killing bears
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Only officers who have been trained to shoot a bear may do so under new guidelines drafted by the Aspen Police Department and distributed to officers this week.
The procedures define the circumstances under which officers may euthanize a bear at the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s request.
The overtaxed DOW recently made an unprecedented request in asking local police to take on the duty of killing bears when a wildlife officer is unavailable and circumstances warrant a bear’s euthanization. Nine bears have been put down in the Aspen area so far this year.
There were times this summer when the DOW could have used an officer’s help, said Bill Linn, assistant chief of police, but he anticipates the euthanization of a bear by a police officer will be a rare occurrence.
“Honestly, I don’t think we’re going to be in the bear-shooting business,” he said.
Nonetheless, officers will be trained in bear anatomy and practice on simulated bear targets at the police shooting range. Only an officer trained specifically for the task will have the authority to kill a bear.
And, an officer is first to request the assistance of a Pitkin County deputy, as sheriff’s deputies are equipped with shotguns – the preferred weapon for taking down a bear. Aspen police officers are armed with AR-15 rifles.
“It’s not really a hunting rifle. It’s not designed to shoot a deer or a bear or anything like that,” Linn said.
Ironically, the procedures were distributed just as bear activity in town dropped off dramatically. Bear calls this week have plummeted, Linn said. The new guidelines have not yet been put to the test.
According to the department’s bear procedure guidelines, officers are authorized to assist the DOW in euthanizing a bear in three situations: when a specific, identifiable “repeat offender” is located and the DOW has requested that it be killed; when a particular, identifiable bear enters a residence and injures a human and the DOW requests its euthanization; and at the officer’s discretion in any life-threatening situation.
Only officers that have been trained to shoot bears can decide how to proceed with a request to kill a bear, according to the guidelines. The safety of the public and fellow officers is the primary consideration, the guidelines state. Officers are also advised to be aware of possible interference from the public and the potential for a public encounter with an injured bear.
“If we need to … if all the stars are in alignment – except the bear’s, I guess – they [officers] do have the authorization to euthanize a bear,” Linn said.