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May 26, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Editorial: Police were right in shooting lion Editorial: Police were right in shooting lion (May 26, 2004)

Harsh criticism of decision to kill lion ignores the very real possibilities that something terrible could have happened in attempt to tranquillize and subdue

The explosion of criticism of the Palo Alto Police Department's shooting a mountain lion that strayed into a residential area May 17 misses the mark.

The core issue is public safety -- concern that a desperate cougar with a tranquillizer dart in its flank could be especially dangerous.

Wildlife experts told police that tranquillizer darts can take 25 minutes or longer to take effect. State Fish & Game and local experts on lions regretfully concurred with the decision.

If the lion stayed in the tree at Walnut and Walter Hays drives until it passed out, fine. But being shot with a large hypodermic needle would likely propel the lion into active flight. It already had demonstrated its ability to leap 6-foot fences, and it could have eluded pursuers.

Police officials also were rightly concerned that attempting to shoot a running lion on the ground would create a serious danger from stray shots -- to other officers, numerous news reporters and bystanders, even persons inside their homes.

Police officials made the right call.

That said, there were serious gaps in communication in the hours after the lion was first spotted at 4:45 a.m. and confirmed at 5:40 a.m. Intent on finding the lion, officials forgot to implement the nearly $200,000 emergency dial-up alert system the city purchased after the 1998 flood. Officers could have used loudspeakers to warn residents to stay indoors -- and keep their children indoors.

Residents told the Weekly they learned of the lion from neighbors or when they walked up and asked parked officers -- including units from other towns -- why there were there. Many learned of the lion hunt from neighborhood listservs and the Weekly's regular updates on the Palo Alto Online community Web site.

But children should not have been walking to Walter Hays or Duveneck elementary schools after 7 a.m. that morning.

Emergency communications with the public have been a problem for the city before -- notably during the 1998 flood and in several crime and accident situations.

Police officials deserve credit for candidly acknowledging their mistakes, but the recurrence of such problems indicates a systemic flaw that needs attention.

Editorial: Cordell should re-think call for Pittman resignation Editorial: Cordell should re-think call for Pittman resignation (May 26, 2004)

Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell's implicit call for the resignation of Lakiba Pittman from the Human Relations Commission is seriously out of line and moves Palo Alto into "litmus test." politics.

Pittmann is in her fifth year on the commission and its current chair. On May 13 she abstained on a resolution opposing amending the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage. She later told the Weekly she had personal religious concerns about gay marriage, as a Baptist. She said in hindsight she could have supported the resolution because she opposes a Constitutional amendment in any case.

Cordell, who attended the meeting as City Council liaison, reacted strongly, saying the abstention is a statement supporting discrimination against gays, and that Pittman should resign from the HRC.

Pittman rejected resignation and in turn questioned Cordell's ability to continue as an effective liaison. She said Cordell, a former judge, has "judged me" in spite of "my life as evidence" of anti-discriminatory effort and beliefs. Pittman is director of global diversity and inclusion for Palo Alto-based Agilent corporation, and both she and Cordell are of African-American ancestry.

Cordell adamantly insists this is a civil rights issue, and clearly protecting rights of gay persons falls under equal-protection and other civil-rights law. She said she will seek council backing to create a "litmus test" for future HRC appointees to test their commitment to anti-discrimination.

But Pittman's abstention was not a "no" vote. It was a neutral non-vote on something on which Pittman felt internally confused at the time. Any person should have the right to express neutrality without being pilloried and accused of evil intent.

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