Police discourage use of Tasers to haze problem bears

James Halpin
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News

Citing the recent off-duty action of one of its officers, the Anchorage Police Department on Monday urged the public to avoid zapping bears with Tasers unless life or property is in peril.

The statement comes after police Lt. Dave Parker used a Taser on July 22 to discourage a black bear lured to a fish fryer at Parker's Hillside home. When the incident was publicized the next day, it stirred up strong reaction pro and con.

A retired wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game publicly scolded the department for allegedly failing to take the encounter seriously -- especially that the fish fryer drew the bear to Parker's home and led to the Tasering.

The bear, which police say had been a problem at several Hillside homes in recent weeks, had gotten into a fish fryer the morning of the encounter when Parker decided to snap the black bear with a burst from a personal Taser C2.

"I didn't want to launch a round out there, and I didn't want to leave him near my parents because he had already been on the second-floor deck and already been in people's houses," Parker said Monday.

After being hit with 100,000 volts, the bear "inverted," with its feet in the air, and rolled off the porch before running off, by Parker's account. An animal that police think was the same bear was shot and killed by another homeowner the next day after apparently trying to get inside a house.

Police on Monday issued a statement saying that Parker's previous conduct may have given the public the misconception that using a Taser to scare off a snooping bear is acceptable, police said.

In defense of life or property, any type of force would have been allowed, but in this case the use of the Taser amounted to an "unnecessary risk," according to police.

Fish and Game officials in recent years have been researching the use of Tasers in dealing with nuisance bears, but they have not determined their effectiveness.

The concern is that a bear -- especially one in a suburban setting -- might not be incapacitated and could turn around to attack the shooter, said Jessy Coltrane, acting Anchorage-area wildlife biologist. Or it could run away in a rage after the shock and attack someone down the road, she said.

"There's a lot of unknowns and potential hazards that we're just not comfortable with utilizing the Taser as a tool for hazing bears that are around residential areas," Coltrane said.

Rick Sinnott, retired Anchorage-area wildlife biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game, said in a letter to the editor published Saturday that the public won't take the law on feeding game seriously if police don't. He suggested Parker fine himself $300 for negligently allowing the bear to get human food.

"I didn't want to pick on Lieutenant Parker. It's just that people just sometimes don't get it," Sinnott said Monday. "I think that was pretty symptomatic there that he was seeing the small picture and not the big picture. It's really important to deal with the garbage. I mean, if we don't have garbage in town, or very little garbage, we're just not going to have the problems with bears that we've had forever."

Police chief Mark Mew said that when he first heard about the incident he didn't think much of it other than to wonder if the Taser belonged to the department, which it did not. Mew said the statement Monday had been planned earlier and was not in response to Sinnott's letter.

"We heard from Fish and Game that they've been getting lots and lots of calls from people around the city and around the state," Mew said. "I can see how we have maybe sent a mixed message out there to the community. It could end up that this is a perfectly good tool and one that we could recommend to people, but we're not there yet."

Parker said he has since put the fish fryer away and that he was willing to take a citation for the incident, but Coltrane said Fish and Game had no immediate plans to fine him.

"There's a lot of situations in town where we don't cite people, especially if I hear about things after the fact," Coltrane said. "I really want people to learn from their experiences and be compliant. I don't think there's any question in my mind that this isn't going to be an issue with Lieutenant Parker ever again."

Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.

Anchorage police officer repels black bear with Taser
Municipal Bear Aware site