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Pittsburgh Police Officers to Receive Animal Behavior Training

Flickr user Robert Bratton

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar is advocating that police officers in Zone 5, which includes the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, be trained in animal behavior so they can properly respond to incidents involving dangerous animals.

The proposed agreement would also include training for zoo employees on the use of live firearms and tranquilizer guns.

Bucar said zoo employees already receive some training on firearms handling, but that he wanted to take the training a step further.

“I wanted to do things (beyond) what other cities have done, where the police officers from the zone that would be responding to the zoo have a better understanding of animal behavior, zoo property and the tactics that would be used if an animal was loose on the property,” Bucar said.

A bill to approve the training agreement between the zoo and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police came before City Council Wednesday, but was held because no zoo official was present to comment.

Councilwoman Darlene Harris expressed concern over the use of firearms to control dangerous animals, but Bucar assured her that deadly tactics are used only as a last resort.

“(The zoo’s) protocols are to preserve the animal at all costs unless the animal becomes a threat,” Bucar said. “If the animal becomes a threat to human life, they have to destroy the animal, but that’s not the objective of this program.”

Bucar said dealing with potentially dangerous animals on zoo property is the responsibility of zoo employees, and that Pittsburgh police officers “would only be involved if an animal breached the perimeter and then became loose in the city.”

Pittsburgh Police Rangemaster John Lubawski, who oversees the bureau’s shooting range and developed the curriculum for training zoo employees, said the firearms training will take about four days. Neither he nor Bucar were able to speak in detail about the zoo’s training for police officers. A spokeswoman for the zoo declined to offer comment for this report.