Havre de Grace police draw online criticism after shooting bear in city

Havre de Grace police said they had to euthanize a bear over the weekend that was in the area of the city’s promenade, “due to the high potential for a physical encounter with humans.”

The police department posted a news release about the incident on social media, prompting more than 900 responses as of Tuesday afternoon, many of them critical of the shooting.


”We understand this was a very unfortunate event, but officers made this decision based on the overwhelming concern for public safety,” the department posted in the release.

Sgt. David Petz of the Havre de Grace Police Department said officers had to make the best decision they could in a limited amount of time. The area the bear was meandering toward was populated, he said, and officers did not want to risk it attacking someone.


“I do not think people realize how condensed of an area the bear was in,” he said. “There was no good outcome to that situation.”

Authorities were contacted Saturday and officers were dispatched to the 700 block of Union Avenue for a report of a bear on residential property. When they arrived, they were unable to locate the bear, which had last been seen heading toward Harford Memorial Hospital, police said.

Police began searching for the bear and alerted residents in the area of the sighting and to take proper precautions, according to the release.

Petz said the first call about the bear came around 6 a.m. The bear, he said, was trying to break into a city resident’s backyard chicken coops. An officer was sent out, but they never made it to the scene because they were flagged down by another person who told them the animal was headed toward the hospital.

The police called the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Petz said, but they told Havre de Grace officers that nobody was working that day. The officers later called again, Petz said.

“They said they would only come out if the bear was injured,” he said.

Eventually, the bear was spotted near the promenade, the city’s popular boardwalk along the water. There, Petz said, it was shot. Havre de Grace police officers are issued .45-caliber Glock pistols.

“They may have shot it a second time but I believe it was actually just one shot,” Petz said.

DNR said they would collect the bear’s carcass, but they never did, Petz said. Instead, the city’s department of public works had to send a vehicle to pick it up and ferry it to a secure location where the city takes roadkill.

Gregg Bortz, a spokesperson for DNR, said the agency did receive two calls from Havre de Grace police. The first was a sighting of the bear, which does not generally merit a response.

“The department was advised of a bear sighting but our staff was not immediately aware of circumstances that would have led to the bear being a threat. The presence of a bear is not generally a reason for concern or response,” Bortz wrote in an email.

Bortz said DNR’s standard response is to allow the bear to leave the area on its own if possible.


“Law enforcement can assist by keeping people and vehicles at a distance until the bear moves to a new location,” he wrote.

The department’s Wildlife Response team members are trained and equipped to immobilize wildlife, but that that “is rarely the appropriate response unless the animal is injured, trapped in a building or confined to an area where it will remain,” after it is tranquilized. Otherwise, he wrote, there is “substantial risk” the animal may run off to another location in an agitated state before the drugs take effect.

DNR did not pick up the animal, Bortz wrote, because local police told wildlife staff there was an “ongoing investigation.”

Petz said he did not know where the bear had come from; this is the first time he has seen one wander into the city in 12 years with the police department. The bear was approximately 2 years old and weighed about 150 pounds, he said.

The DNR webpage “Living with Black Bears” warns residents if a bear comes into their yard, they shouldn’t panic, shoot it or approach it. “Most bears fear people and will leave when they see you. ... Learn to tolerate bears. Many bears are killed or injured when not causing problems,” the website states.

DNR uses aversive conditioning to change bear behavior, according to the site. “It provides negative feedback to problem bears. The unpleasant experience discourages individual bears from repeating undesirable behavior.”

Aversive conditioning may include using a chemical irritant applied at close range to the face of the bear, using noise-making pyrotechnics fired in the direction of the bear, and non-lethal rubber projectiles fired from a shotgun at the rump or shoulder of the bear, according to the website.

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