KINGMAN - The Kingman Police Department's shooting of a black bear that wandered into the city limits late Thursday morning has spurred a public outcry from residents critical of the KPD's actions.
More than five pages of comments flooded the Miner's e-mail Friday morning, with reactions ranging from resigned acceptance, to disappointment, to sheer outrage.
"I think this was overreaction, creating bad publicity for the city, the police department and hunters," read one comment. Another argued that "(if) they had been trained for this type of situation, it would not have happened as it did. If they would at least have a tranquilizer gun somewhere within the department, they would have access to it if needed."
An unscientific poll conducted at the Miner's Web site showed that, as of 4:30 p.m. Friday, a majority of readers agreed that the bear should have been tranquilized rather than killed, with 29 percent saying that KPD should have waited for Game and Fish officials to do so, and 42 percent saying that the KPD should have had tranquilizers on hand.
According to City Clerk Debbie Francis, calls from concerned citizens came into City Hall Friday morning, with most asking to speak directly to Mayor John Salem or City Manager Jack Kramer.
"We haven't actually talked to them to find out how they felt," Francis said. "I've only spoken to two people, one was very upset about it, and one agreed with the police department's actions."
Salem stands by KPD decision
When called for comment, Salem said he stood by the KPD's actions, noting that while the bear's death was a tragic occurrence, the decision to shoot it came down to the discretion of the officers on the scene, whom he said must have felt the bear posed an imminent threat to the public.
"Hindsight is always 20:20; we can go back and reevaluate what has happened and perhaps learn from this, but the fact is that it's a very, very rare occasion for a bear to come into the city, and the bottom line is that we have to make sure that the public is protected at all costs," Salem said. "Had something happened to where we did wait for Game and Fish to show up with tranquilizer guns, if somebody would've been injured or hurt, the tables would have been completely turned, so I absolutely stand by what happened with the police department."
KPD public information officer Sgt. Bob Fisk said that, while he wasn't certain exactly how much it would cost to outfit the department with tranquilizer guns, he noted that the current financial situation has made it hard enough to keep the city's public communications equipment up to date.
"I don't think you can warrant having the tranquilizer guns," Fisk said "This was the first type of call we've had like that. We'd have to have at least one tranquilizer gun for at least one guy per squad, and it just doesn't seem (financially) feasible.
"Nobody wanted to take this bear and have to put it down," he added. "It was a split decision, and we didn't know how far away Game and Fish was at the time."
G&F en route when bear shot
Zen Mocarski of the local Arizona Game and Fish office said that the department was still several minutes away from the 1700 block of Jefferson Avenue, where police had followed the bear, when the decision was made to shoot it.
"We had been running down Stockton Hill Road with lights on prior to that, until the call came in that the bear had been shot," Mocarski said. "We were only a few minutes out, but, you know, regardless of when Game and Fish arrived at the scene, Kingman PD is charged with public safety, and they had to make a decision."
Mocarski added that his estimation of the bear's age had been revised from one year to "two years plus," based on its weight of 175 pounds.
"I wasn't there to make that call (to shoot the bear), but somebody obviously has to make a tough decision at some point in time when you've got a 175 pound black bear, which can be very powerful," he said. "The call to public safety isn't just where you are in that moment, it's where the situation can lead - imagine this bear running across and encountering a five-year old playing in a yard."
That may not have happened, but the bear did grab the attention of local paralegal Rhonda Keller, who found herself face-to-face with the bear at her office on Main Street at about 9:55 a.m. Thursday.
"I'm sitting here at my desk ... and I hear this noise - it's crashing, it's banging," Keller said. "I pulled the window shade and the bear was on its hind legs, staring at me."
Keller said the bear had pressed its face against one of her office windows and repeatedly banged on it with his paws, then circled around to the office's glass front door and did the same. "I'm backing up, and he's hitting that window hard and rattling it," she said. "I was really afraid."
After several harrowing moments that seemed to last forever, Keller said the bear dropped back down on all fours and ran away, with two police cars in pursuit. To Keller, there had been little doubt in her mind that the bear, frightened or not, posed an imminent threat to the public.
"It's easy to stand on the sidelines and condemn the police," she said. "But if that was you in those moments of terror, you'd be thankful for the police, and you'd be thankful for what they did."