Journalism 21B 6.10
Police action turns fatal after officers fail to utilize emergency systems
A mountain lion was fatally shot by a Santa Clara County police officer while relaxing in a tree near Stevens Creek County Park last Saturday.
Residents have largely condemned the police action as inhumane and lacking compassion. The footage of the moment of the bullet’s impact, being repeatedly broadcast by a local television station, has further inflamed the controversy. Residents branded it a “cruel,” and “bloodythirsty,” act.
“I’m sorry to see the police took the easy way out,” one resident said, among those wondering why non-lethal means were not used.
Police argue that giving the shoot-to-kill order was the only reasonable and safe option. Tranquilizer darts would have taken 25 minutes or more to take effect, according to California Fish & Game and lion experts, which police said could have given the spooked animal time to flee through the neighborhood.
A mountain lion can clear 6-foot fences with ease and reach speeds of 45 mph. Trying to take down a running lion would risk stray bullets hitting bystanders, other officers, and the walls of occupied homes. Since a clean kill would be difficult, the lion could end up wounded and cornered, making it far more dangerous than usual.
Nothing is certain when dealing with wild animals, but rangers have stated that mountain lions are largely peaceful towards humans and routinely pass through residential neighborhoods without anyone noticing them. In this situation the fault of the police lies less with actually shooting the animal than with the complete lack of preparation that led to it.
Police candidly admitted that they forgot to implement the city’s nearly $200,000 emergency dial-up alert system, installed after the fluke tornado of 1998. They also failed to properly secure the scene, allowing reporters and residents to come close enough to cause the risk used to justify the shooting.
Someone should definitely be fired for this. Among the many complaint letters sent to police, one even called for the resignation of the police chief. At the very least, the entire department needs to be retrained on how to properly deal with wildlife, not to mention when to use the very expensive emergency resources paid for with citizen’s tax dollars.
Some of the blame lies with the media and citizens though. If they had not insisted on crowding in around the scene, the police would have had more options. Once a human life is in danger though, the police have no choice.
The police still failed the residents though. A single officer with a loudspeaker could have kept people inside and away from any of the lion’s potential escape paths. Many residents walked right up to the scene and had to ask police what was going on. Some were at home and went out to look after hearing about the lion hunt on the local yahoo group listserv.