Police did not act unlawfully or in contravention of official duty
In the opinion of Deputy-Ombudsman Jukka Lindstedt, there are no grounds to suspect that the police acted unlawfully or neglected their official duty in an incident in Hanko that led to a bear being shot dead.
Five complaints concerning the shooting of the animal were received by the Ombudsman. The criticisms included in the complaints were, inter alia, that the authorities had, by chasing the bear, themselves caused the situation in which it started swimming towards the mainland, that the police had not consulted a wildlife expert and that they had no plan to drive it into a safe area. In his investigation of the matter the Deputy-Ombudsman also had at his disposal reports that the police had earlier given to a public prosecutor, because notification of a criminal offence had also been made in the matter.
The operation began on the island of Granskär in Hanko in the forenoon of 6.5.2007 when birdwatchers saw the bear and informed the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard arrived on the scene immediately and notified the police. When the police arrived and approached the island in a boat, the bear was no longer to be seen. Police officers spent an hour and a half trying to locate the bear. Then they summoned a helicopter and the bear was spotted from it. While the helicopter was hovering over the island, the bear took to the water and swam away.
The police had already at an early stage been in contact with the head game warden with the Uusimaa game management association to ask what would be the best way to handle the situation. The game expert was of the opinion that the bear should not be allowed to reach the Hankoniemi peninsula. In his assessment, the animal could not be anaesthetised in the water, because it would drown.
In the situation, the Deputy-Ombudsman concludes on the basis of the material at his disposal, that the police fulfilled their duty to ensure public order and safety. Their initial duty was to determine the bear's whereabouts. In accordance with the principle of least harm, the police first sought a way out that would not mean having to kill the bear. The aim was that it would swim in a direction that would mean both that it would not be a danger to people and that it would have a chance of surviving. However, this plan failed and when the bear was approaching the shoreline of the Hankoniemi Peninsula, it had to be put down. Going by the advice they had received from the game expert, the police could not allow the bear to reach the mainland, where there would have been a danger of it roaming about in the middle of an inhabited area.
The Deputy-Ombudsman emphasises that under the Police Act the police has the right to capture and terminate an animal if it poses a danger to human life or health. It was precisely from this perspective that the police appraised the situation in this case. In the perception of the Deputy-Ombudsman, the legislator's intention has been that the police must have the possibility to respond rapidly to threatening situations, which pose a danger to human life and health, as they develop. The essential consideration is whether the situation is serious from the perspective of the police's general task of protecting public order and safety.
Additional information will be provided by Referendary Mikko Eteläpää,
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