‘We’re not the bear police’: South Florida sheriff’s office defends killing black bear

Spokesperson says wildlife officials dropped the ball: “It is our responsibility to keep the public safe”

Black bear roaming Royal Palm Beach neighborhood (PBSO)

ROYAL PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is defending its decision to shoot and kill a black bear over the weekend, amid mounting criticism from residents and state wildlife officials publicly signaling disagreement with the decision.

Deputies monitored the bear for hours as it roamed a Royal Palm Beach neighborhood Saturday, eventually shooting and killing it when it began to climb down from a tree. They had deemed the bear a public safety hazard after they said they waited “several hours” for a trapper who did not arrive.

West Palm Beach ABC affiliate WPBF spoke with an official with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who disputed PBSO’s account, saying the agency had determined it was best to let the bear leave the area on its own and that there was no trapper involved at all.

WPBF has now obtained an incident report and talked with a Sheriff’s spokesperson, who defended the decision.

In their report, deputies said FWC officers on scene told them that their FWC supervisors said to kill the bear if it came down from the tree in light of public safety concerns.

“FWC officers advised that they were ordered that if the bear were to come down from the tree prior to a trapper arriving, their orders were to neutralize the bear due to public safety,” the report said.

Deputies said they and FWC officers spent hours trying to keep the bear up in the tree until a trapper could arrive. The plan soon changed.

The report said that FWC officials told deputies that they would back off, watch the bear until nightfall and then let it wander off.

A PBSO lieutenant then took charge, ordering his deputies to get their shotguns and shoot as soon as the bear’s paws hit the ground.

Two deputies fired several shots, the report says, killing the bear.

PBSO spokesperson Teri Barbera told WPBF that deputies did not want to kill the bear, but wildlife experts “dropped the ball” and should have taken charge to ensure it was safely removed from the residential area. She said deputies chose to protect residents over the bear.

Barbera told the station that deputies attempted to call multiple animal refuges on their own, to no avail, after FWC said it would not.

“We’re not the bear police — we don’t know how to handle a bear,” Barbera said. “It is our responsibility to keep the public safe.”

She said the agency is now working on a new protocol for bear calls. She said deputies expected to respond to them will equip themselves with training and tranquilizers.

WPBF also spoke to residents who felt the situation could have been handled better.

“I’m very upset. I wish it could have been relocated to a proper habitat outside of a residential neighborhood,” Sarah Loredo said.

The same bear had been believed to have been sighted and photographed several times in one week in both the Jupiter Farms and Royal Palm Beach areas, WPBF reported.

It is illegal to kill a black bear in Florida without an FWC permit unless it poses a threat to human life, according to the agency’s website.

About the Author:

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.