FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!

Columns : Editorial

Editorial: Lions and Tigers and Bears

Just about anything can happen while you are on duty, including a wild animal escape.

November 07, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Terry Thompson, owner of Muskingum County Animal Farm, reportedly opened all the gates to the cages of his exotic menagerie then shot himself in the head. And suddenly the sheriff of Muskingum County, Ohio, Matt Lutz, was presented with a tactical problem that has never faced any American law enforcement official: There were numerous large, exotic predatory animals roaming his jurisdiction.

Lutz and his officers went to work on Oct. 19, probably expecting the usual routine operations of a rural sheriff's department. But before the day was over they became reluctant big game hunters.

There's a lesson in that for all American law enforcement officers. But before I get to it, I'd like to give you a slice of what Lutz and his deputies actually dealt with during this incident.

Lutz told reporters that the first deputies called to the scene were confronted by a tiger. Their reaction was to open fire on the cat with their sidearms. Anybody who hunts large animals can tell you that a .40 caliber pistol is a bad weapons choice for the job. So imagine the abject terror of a cop facing down a tiger with a pistol. That officer is not trained for such a contingency.

After that initial encounter, Lutz and his deputies started to approach the problem with much more tactical precision. Their first priority was to prevent the assortment of lions, tigers, leopards, and bears from attacking the local population. Few Americans are aware of this fact, but tigers, lions, and bears still eat people in this world.

Lutz and his deputies warned the public to stay inside. Schools were closed for the following day in the surrounding area. Lutz told the press that he didn't want kids waiting on school buses to encounter any of the escaped predators.

Then the officers started to work the problem. One issue they faced was they weren't sure how many animals and what types of animals had escaped. So they rounded up people who had worked on the farm and compiled inventories. Final count was 56, including 18 adult Bengal tigers.

Knowing what they were up against, the officers started to gather resources. They assembled night vision equipment and rifles, and they called in experts from the nearby Columbus Zoo, including retired zookeeper and media personality Jack Hanna. Sheriff Lutz made it clear to his officers from the beginning that he wanted the animals killed if they represented any threat to the public. So the officers of the Muskingum County Sheriff's Department fanned out and went hunting.

Many people have questioned Lutz's decision to put down the exotic creatures, including some endangered species. They've asked why the animals couldn't be shot with tranquilizers. There are many reasons why this wouldn't have worked, but most people asking this question have no concept of how difficult it would be for any American law enforcement agency to assemble enough tranquilizer guns and vets to perform such operations. An attempt actually was made to "trank" a tiger. It failed when the animal bolted after it was hit with the dart. Officers were forced to kill it.

Lutz and his officers did exactly what any law enforcement officer is supposed to do when confronted by a threat: They protected the public that they serve. Lutz was decisive in his command decision to kill the animals. And he's taking heat for it. But even the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said the blame for the tragedy was not on the officers but on lax laws that allow people like Thompson to collect live exotic animals. Hanna says the officers did the right thing and added that the incident was like "Noah's Ark wrecking in eastern Ohio."

OK. Here's the lesson for all law enforcement officers that should be learned from this incident: Anything that can happen will. Be aware of what is in your jurisdiction. If there's a chemical plant, be prepared for an airborne toxic release. If there's a dam, be prepared for a flood. If there's a farm that houses lions, tigers, and velociraptors, be prepared for them to escape. Know what's in your jurisdiction and think about how to respond if the worst happens.

Finally, some of you may see this as a contradiction to the last statement, but you can't prepare for everything. Life is unpredictable. So when the unthinkable does happen, respond quickly, act decisively, and be prepared to take the heat. The people you serve deserve nothing less.

Tags: Animals Gone Wild, Muskingum County (Ohio) Sheriff


Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

Mark @ 11/8/2011 7:16 AM

It was a damned shame to have to kill those beautiful animals, but the protection of HUMAN life was paramount and the sheriff and his deputies did what they had to do. For once, I agree with a statement made by PETA that allowing unqualified persons to own exotic animals is a recipe for disaster as this and other, less spectacular cases, show. Good job by all involved in this operation.

Bchin @ 11/11/2011 2:39 PM

There is another thing to remeber: not everyone carries a patrol rifle. And even those that do usually carry an AR-15 or other .223 Rem. caliber rifle. The rifle is better than a handgun for those animals, but the .223 round is not an optimum caliber for taking out large game, like tigers.

Join the Discussion





POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Stories

Inside the Mind of a Cold Case Detective
The first thing a good investigator, especially a cold case investigator, needs to know is...
Concerns of Police Survivors Healing Hearts
Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) welcomes with open arms those who have suffered...

Get Your FREE Trial Issue and Win a Gift! Subscribe Today!
Yes! Please rush me my FREE TRIAL ISSUE of POLICE magazine and FREE Officer Survival Guide with tips and tactics to help me safely get out of 10 different situations.

Just fill in the form to the right and click the button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.

If POLICE does not satisfy you, just write "cancel" on the invoice and send it back. You'll pay nothing, and the FREE issue is yours to keep. If you enjoy POLICE, pay only $25 for a full one-year subscription (12 issues in all). Enjoy a savings of nearly 60% off the cover price!

Offer valid in US only. Outside U.S., click here.
It's easy! Just fill in the form below and click the red button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.
First Name:
Last Name:
Rank:
Agency:
Address:
City:
State:
  
Zip Code:
 
Country:
We respect your privacy. Please let us know if the address provided is your home, as your RANK / AGENCY will not be included on the mailing label.
E-mail Address:

Police Magazine