A ride-along with a polar bear beat cop

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For six years, Bob Windsor kept Churchill, Man., free of a different kind of perp.

From 2009 until 2015, Bob Windsor kept the streets safe in the arctic town of Churchill—or at least tried to. Even with less than a dozen blocks to protect, the Manitoba conservation officer and his small staff were heavily outnumbered. That’s because every November hundreds of culprits stalk the town and its 800 residents.

Perps are hungry, disoriented and sometimes very aggressive—and weigh half a ton. Welcome to the polar bear capital of the world. The animals gathering in Canada’s far north are waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze. The return of the sea ice enables the Ursus maritimus population to resume hunting their favorite meal: seals. But until then, they’re landlocked and attracted to the sinful smells of civilization. And as the rapacious bears encroach, the salt-and-pepper-haired Windsor led the first line of defense of the polar bear alert program.

In November 2014, which would turn out to be Windsor’s last November in Churchill, writer Adam Popescu rode shotgun with Windsor to see what it’s like policing the arctic.

What’s a typical day in the life of a polar bear beat cop like?

Bob Windsor: Usually starts off with a patrol to see if there’s any bears in town. The chance of a bear coming into town is pretty good; hard part is seeing it in weather like this.

Tell me about your hardware. What do you carry to keep the bears away?

BW: I’ve got a scare pistol. Screamer cartridges go into the barrel, make a big screaming sound, and it’s a visible one, sparkling as it goes. We use that if a bear’s really close. Next would be my shotgun, our most commonly used tool. Cracker shells shoot about 75 yards, then explode. You don’t want to put the exploding part past the bear, because you may chase him back towards you. You want to aim a little higher so it explodes above them. With the shotgun, on my bandelier, [these] green cartridges are rubber bullets. If a bear’s close, and not responding to sound, that’s an option to get them moving. I like paintballs better than rubber bullets. Rubber bullets are $6 apiece. Their range: maybe 35 yards. After that, good luck hitting anything. Paintballs are really cheap, range-wise a little better, and you can just let them rip. On the bottom of my bandelier are red cartridges. Those are rifle slugs for me to protect myself.

Have you had to use that?

BW: I’ve had to shoot two bears. I was hoping to go my whole time without having to, but there are moments when it’s necessary.

Tell me what it’s like shooting at a bear.

BW: [In November 2013], there was an attack in town. Two people were very seriously injured. I was first on scene, and I ended up shooting the bear. Our policy is if a person is killed or mauled, we permanently remove the bear. There was another attack last September where we didn’t find the bear that night, but we caught him in a trap the next morning. That bear is at the zoo now, permanently removed, but not killed.

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