Local police have added a Taser to their tools for chasing off bears, but say there are limits on its use.

Last year, Sgt. Jason Joel was at a Ripinsky hillside home on Mathias Street frequented by a 200-pound black bear. On previous visits, he’d used his siren and rubber bullets to shoo the bear off, but they didn’t work for long.

A little more than an hour after being hit by rubber bullets, the bear was back, trying to break into a storage shed where residents were storing trash. “Basically the bear was constantly in their carport.”

The following day, Joel was in the house when the bear arrived. Because of the proximity to the home next door, he couldn’t safely use the rubber bullets. So he cracked the door and shot his electronic stun gun at the animal from a distance of about 10 feet.

“He rolled over on his back, yelled for a few seconds, peed on himself and ran into the woods and never came back,” Joel recounted.

About a week ago, Joel was responding to a small brown bear at a home behind Fort Seward. From the seat of his patrol car, he again used his Taser, although this time only one of two barbed probes on the device set.

“He still jumped and took off into the bushes, and the owner said he hasn’t been seen since,” Joel said.

Joel gives the Taser two thumbs up. “I was amazed at how well it worked. I have no doubt it would work on a larger bear,” he said. “I think (the Taser) is a good deterrent, and it’s a lot better alternative than putting the bear down. I think we should try everything we can before going that route.”

The problem with using the Taser is the proximity required for effective use. The device is advertised to work up to a distance of 25 feet, but a closer distance may be required for a sure hit.

That means an officer needs the cover of some kind of structure, or the assistance of another officer on hand to provide cover in the event the Taser doesn’t work, said police chief Gary Lowe. “Only in a very controlled set of circumstances can we do that because of officer safety. If you’re out in the open, the Taser’s not going to be a viable option.”

Lowe said there’s no department policy on using the Taser at bear calls. “It’s pretty much situational. To use the Taser takes a specific set of circumstances.”

Reports of bears around homes have jumped since the Fourth of July holiday, which Lowe attributes to fireworks. “It’s got them stirred up a little bit. They’re roaming around town and they find garbage and that entices them to come back. We just have to convince them to move on.”

The Taser manufacturer, which is interested in knowing the effects of the device on bears, recently sent the department two cameras which attach to the devices. The company asked the department to send a video of the next Taser strike on a bear.

Lowe said a Taser shotgun shell, which is self-contained and doesn’t require a wired connection to the gun, may be ideal. “It’s pretty spendy but I think that would be the thing for bear control.”