[Editor's note: This is one of a two-part interview with former South Pasadena Police Chief Dan Watson. ]
Watson, now Mammoth Lakes Police Chief, shares some thoughts about South Pasadena, Mammoth Lakes, and how to reason with a bear.
Q: Is there a qualitative, quantitative difference in crime, between Mammoth Lakes and South Pasadena?
A: Overall, Mammoth Lakes is a relatively crime free area with about as much crime per capita as South Pasadena. It's just different types of crime.
Because we are very isolated and there's only two ways out of town, we get very little property crime. We have many more crimes against persons here than in South Pasadena. Much of it is alcohol related - bar fights, domestic violence, and of course DUI. Being a tourist destination, many visitors come here to party, and alcohol affects you much greater at this altitude.
Q: What has been one of the more challenging aspects of your job?
A: When I left South Pasadena I told people I would be dealing with bears and bars. Little did I know how true that would be. We have a resident bear population that keeps us busy in the summer. We have a contractor Wildlife Specialist named Steve Searles who is well known from the "Bear Whisperer" television show. His job is to monitor the bears and condition them to what's acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
My officers are also trained to do the same. Bears that co-exist without breaking into cars or houses for food are left alone. Those that misbehave get shot in the butt with non-lethal weapons. Most of them get the message. Some don't and they become our problem bears. Steve also spends a lot of time educating the public about how to co-exist with bears.
Q: How does the vacation population affect what you do?
A: We have two distinct visitor seasons, and actually get more visitors in the summer than winter. The summer visitors tend to be fisherman, backpackers, bikers, etc and many stay in campgrounds. They don't contribute as much to the economy but they also don't create as many police problems. The winter visitors spend more money and tend to party hardier. The spring and fall are our "shoulder seasons," when the town gets very quiet and many of the businesses are closed.
Q: Your wife Kathy Watson is a gifted photographer. I take it she’s pretty enthusiastic about the new surroundings?
A: Kathy's an amateur photographer who now has a daily photo blog thanks to advice from South Pasadena's own Laurie Allee. This gets her out and about the Eastern Sierras. She'll load up the car with Kelly, our dog, and be gone for the day. She has an unbelievable and unending amount of subjects available and I think she does a great job with her work. She enjoys living here as much as I do. She's now on the Board of Directors of Wild Iris, the domestic violence shelter, and has gotten involved with the Hospital Auxillary. Next week she will be getting training to become a docent at Mono Lake.
Q: Do the two of you plan to move back to Southern California?
A: Most likely at some time. We kept our home, and my daughter and her family are living there. We've got the option to remain here when I retire or return to Southern California. The biggest reason to return would be my children and grandchildren who all still live in Southern California. .