A female brown bear. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

A female brown bear. This was not the bear shot in Skagway. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Earlier this month, a Skagway police officer accidentally shot a brown bear with a lethal slug during an attempt to haze, or scare away, the bear. Skagway’s police chief says he is taking steps to prevent such a mistake from happening again.

Chief Ray Leggett says the officer had been on the job about a month when the hazing incident occurred. A bear was hanging around a campsite, and people were shouting and honking car horns in an effort to scare it off.

“And [the officer] went over there and he thought ‘well with all this many people around, [the bear’s] going to come back around, I can try to haze him.’ So he emptied out all his ammo in his gun, loaded it up with what he believed to be less lethal rounds, and when he discharged it he thought ‘that felt a little different,’ but he didn’t think any more about it,” Leggett recounted.

It wasn’t until a park ranger arrived and they found the bullet casing that the officer realized what happened.

“And he goes, ‘oh no. I had to have shot him with a real round.'”

The bullet hit the bear in the rear, and the animal ran away. It was later observed swimming in the Taiya River. The National Park Service and police department warned residents to be alert in case the bear resurfaced. But Leggett says the animal hasn’t been seen since then.

As for the officer’s mistake, Leggett says he understands how the rubber and real bullets could get mixed up.

“I’ve got some here on my desk, they’re kind of grayish. In low-light conditions you wouldn’t think about it honestly. One’s heavier than the other if you sit there and hold them, but I can honestly see how it would be an honest mistake.”

Still, Leggett says he ‘messed up’ by sending an officer out on that call before he had any training on how to haze a bear. Leggett declined to provide the officer’s name, but said he previously worked for the Alaska State Troopers.

“We had not had a chance to send him to any hazing training. Hazing training is not something that is absolutely common in law enforcement.”

Reports of the accidental bear shooting drew some heated reactions on social media and news websites.

“I’m sorry and I’ve got nothing else to say other than we own it, and I take responsibility for it,” Leggett said. “Because I’m the chief, and I take responsibility for making sure these people are trained and do their job and that’s an area I messed up on.”

Leggett says the officer will attend a hazing training put on by the National Park Service. Leggett himself is planning to personally paint all of the department’s gray rubber bullets so they’re not easily mixed up again. He’s not sure what color yet, but says “it will be a bright one.”