Police spent nearly three hours Saturday night following a black bear that wandered into the city, and only shot and killed the animal after running out of other options, officials said at Wednesday's city council meeting.
"We had our entire shift tied up with it," Police Chief Carl Scalzo said. “We didn't want to go down that road. But public safety had to come first. There really was no good outcome here. It was headed into the heart of the city."
Seven officers followed the bear for hours, closing streets and keeping members of the public away while they tried to convince someone from the Pennsylvania Game Commission to come and tranquilize the bear for relocation, said Councilman Jeff Warren, head of the public safety committee.
"I felt great sadness. I'm an animal lover," Warren said. “(But) I'm glad that my children...were kept safe because the police did their job."
Warren dismissed the idea that the animal wasn't dangerous or that scaring it off by clanging together pots and pans would have worked under the circumstances.
“This bear...it was in a residential neighborhood. It was not in the wild,” he said, noting that the bear was out of its element and its behavior was therefore unpredictable. “Who's to say this bear wouldn't have attacked someone if he was startled?”
Mayor Sal Panto also said he supported the police's decision.
“This was a two-and-a-half hour tracking. They did not just shoot a bear,” Panto said. “I've gotten calls saying they don't go after humans. But what if it was a kid with a sandwich in his hand?”
Scalzo said he supported what his officers did when there were no other options left, and that while they didn't know it at the time, the tranquilizers used didn't work because they were for dogs.
The idea that the tranquilizers were old and therefore no longer potent was incorrect, he said, noting that each dart must be hand-loaded with the drug before they are shot.
City police are not allowed to possess bear tranquilizers, he said, because if the bear is shot for game shortly after relocation and humans eat the meat, they can be poisoned. Only certain game wardens are allowed to possess them, and there was no warden with a license available.
Scalzo said he personally listened to tapes of the conversations of county dispatch with the game commission, and the game commission officer on-duty refused the city's requests for both handling assistance and tranquilizing the bear.
Scalzo said police followed the bear from just west of North Sixth Street to just west of North Fifth Street, where it was shot and killed. The concept of "just shooing it" into a dog cage or otherwise trapping the animal themselves was completely unrealistic, he added.
“It was a small bear,” he said, “but it was 170 pounds.”
With no effective tranquilizers, no game commission assistance and nowhere safe for the bear to go, the police felt they had no other options after three hours.
"If we wanted to shoot the bear, we would have just shot it,” he said. “This was a last resort."
In other council business, West Ward Neighborhood Partnership Physical Quality Committee representative Carinne Buzzuto updated council members on the group's recent activities, including:
- the formation of a neighborhood coalition for the Gallows Hill section of the area, with the first meeting scheduled for May 31
- a discussion planned for June 12 on the placement of proposed parking meters on the north side of Ferry Street near the county justice center
- a walk through of an alley on the north side of Ferry Street to look at potential environmental design and planning changes to discourage illegal drug activity
- a neighborhood clean-up day for the same area scheduled for June 16 from 9 a.m. to noon
- a future potential meeting with District Attorney John Morganelli and representatives from the group to discuss “Three Strikes and You're Out”
The group is also requesting that the city:
- earmark funding for trash and recycling education explaining local ordinances and penalties for violations
- require by law that landlords provide garbage receptacles to their tenants
Wednesday council meeting was held at the Easton Area Community Center, as part of the council's initiative to hold meetings in neighborhoods other than Downtown at city hall, from time to time.