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Update: RCMP defend actions in Sunday bear shooting
Revelstoke RCMP are defending their decisions and actions after a bear was destroyed in the Big Eddy on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 8.
The incident started in Farwell when police responded to complaints from residents about the young bear roaming in back yards.
Eventually, three police vehicles attended and tried to shoo the bear away.
Their efforts, which involved using sirens, lights and hurling chunks of ice at the animal, soon attracted a crowd of onlookers, creating dangerous moments.
Revelstoke RCMP Staff-Sgt. Kurt Grabinsky said some of the onlookers got between the police and the bear, and some disobeyed orders to leave the area. Grabinsky said at one point bystanders asked police to move out of the way because police were blocking their view of the bear.
Grabinsky said some people got within about seven metres of the stressed and agitated bear.
"As the [police cruiser dashboard] video will clearly show, they were between us and the bear," Grabinsky said. "It appears that the higher priority is getting that cell phone shot than their own … safety."
After about 45 minutes, police corralled the bear across the Big Eddy Bridge and shot it.
Noting the bear hadn't yet denned down, Grabinsky said it was obviously habituated to humans and a danger to the community.
"The bear had no fear of people and vehicles.The bear actually started gnawing on the front bumper of one of our vehicles," Grabinsky said. "The objective was never to shoot the bear."
The incident caused a backlash on social media in Revelstoke, where some attacked police actions as cruel and unnecessary. Others defended the police response, saying a human-habituated bear in a residential neighbourhood in December is an obvious problem and safety concern.
"I'm saddened to see the way we're being roasted in social media," Grabinsky said. "I hope they make comments when they're aware of the full situation."
Grabinsky admits police didn't do a perfect job, saying they aren't trained experts in animal relocation, but he said the issue was exacerbated by the gathering crowd, some of whom disobeyed orders to leave.
Online, some said they planned to send their video of the situation to media outlets. Grabinsky said he'd reviewed a 32-minute police dashboard camera video, and his concern was unsafe behaviour by some residents.
Grabinsky said police followed procedure in notifying the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, but no officers were available to respond.
Grabinsky didn't immediately have a timeline on when public complaints about the bear were made to police and when police contacted the B.C. Conservation Officer Service. He said police acted on the bear on a Sunday evening because of a complaint.
Conservation officers do have the option of trapping and relocating bears, although they do often destroy problem bears with firearms.
Grabinsky said RCMP, like the public, call a 1-800 number to notify the B.C. Conservation Officer Service of a problem animal. The number is 1-877-952-RAPP (7277).
Incidentally, the Revelstoke-based conservation officer is scheduled to retire on Dec. 19, leaving Revelstoke without a conservation officer for the time being. Grabinsky said Revelstoke will be serviced by officers based in Golden and Vernon.
Grabinsky urged residents to take standard bear awareness measures, like obeying garbage bylaws.
The Times Review has filed a request with the B.C. Ministry of Environment to find out details on the retirement of the Conservation Officer in Revelstoke and future plans for the provision of the service here.
Revelstoke Bear Aware coordinator Sue Davies said a bear had been reported in the area in the past week. She said it was the second bear destroyed this season in Revelstoke.
Bear Aware had heard news of the Revelstoke conservation officer's pending retirement, but hasn't received official notice. She said it is very important for the program to have a conservation officer based in Revelstoke, and ideally two.
Did you witness the encounter? Do you have a different take? Is not having a Conservation Officer in Revelstoke a concern? Express your views in the comments section below, or contact the Times Review directly at 250-837-4667.
Update: Dec. 9, 7 p.m. Clarification: A previous version of this story said residents asked police to move so they could get a better video shot of the bear. In fact, Staff-Sgt. Grabinsky said people asked the police to get out of the way so they could get a better view of the bear, not specifically for the purpose of the video-recording. Grabinsky sought clarification In an email after our Dec. 9 interview. Our original, now clarified understanding of the events was based on the following quote from Staff-Sgt. Grabinsky in our Dec. 9 interview:
Staff-Sgt. Grabinsky: "I just watched the entire in-car video of the bear -- [it] had no fear of people, of vehicles, and no matter what we did, it just did not really seem interested. When it decided to cross the bridge and make its way over to the other side – people were shockingly close, in between us and the bear trying to videotape it, trying to be present. Nobody was trying to aid the situation it appears, but merely just trying to get their shot at it – and – it was a bit frustrating, here we are trying to keep public people safe; we have actually found that some of the public were yelling at the police and not to not deal with the bear, but to get out of their way when they are looking at the bear."
Update: Dec. 9, 7 p.m. Correction: The Times Review erred in our reporting on why the police decided to deal with the bear on Sunday night. Although not stated in our story, Grabinsky said police had multiple reports of a bear in the area over the past week. When asked why the police decided to move in on Sunday night, Staff-Sgt. Grabinsky said that it was due to "the number of people present on the roadway." We misinterpreted our notes, believing he meant to say there were fewer people around. In fact, Grabinsky went on to say they acted because there were many people around viewing the bear on Sunday night. In subsequent communication, he said the police had received a complaint on Sunday night. We regret the error.