Santa Paula police officers who killed a mountain lion cub in February acted inappropriately and outside of department policy, according to an external review released this week.
The cub was killed by two officers who responded to a sighting of the cat on Dana Road, but the review determined that "no person was placed in immediate jeopardy" and that the officers should have used alternative methods of dealing with the cat.
Santa Paula Police Chief Steve MacKinnon said he requested the review. He said that dealing with mountain lions was a new issue for the department. "The thing that's unusual for us is we've had no mountain lion calls for the last five years," MacKinnon said.
Yet the department has received "21 separate calls in the past six weeks," he said.
"It's extremely unusual; the experts don't have an explanation" for the rash of cougar sightings, he said.
MacKinnon presented the results of the review, conducted by Larry Nichols, a shooting expert with the Burbank Police Department, on Monday to the Santa Paula City Council.
The review included suggestions for what the supervising officer on scene could have done differently, including ordering officers to hold a perimeter and not to "engage, corner or agitate [the] mountain lion and to wait until Fish and Game arrived, only to shoot if they are attacked or to protect another person from being attacked."
In a memo, MacKinnon said he has taken several steps since the cub shooting to better train officers to deal with mountain lions.
He said all senior officers and supervisors had received training about the animals from the Mountain Lion Foundation and that the department was going to adopt a "wild animal" policy.
MacKinnon said officers have been advised to consider using bean bag shotguns, which are in patrol vehicles, as an option. He also defended the officers involved, saying they did not have enough training at the time to know how to best deal with the cat.
The chief wrote in the memorandum that "the decisions made by the officers on that date were based on their current level of training and experience. In essence, they had no training or point of reference in which to manage this call for service."