The shooting of a young male bear in Union Township, N.J., has raised concerns among bear advocates.
The bear was traveling through backyards often filled with children, and was just blocks away from several schools.
"Public safety was the key to everything," Union Police Director Dan Zieser told NBC New York.
Zieser said he gave the shoot order as he stood behind one of his officers, who then put two slugs into the animal.
"We didn't know if there was gonna be kids in the next yard," Zieser said.
But Angie Metler of BEaR, the Bear Education and Resource group, was in disbelief.
"This was an extreme response for a non-situation," Metler said.
She said her group offers bear interaction training to police and towns across the state, along with educational materials.
"Bears are moving everywhere throughout New Jersey," Metler said. "Everyone is going to have to learn to live with them."
New Jersey DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese confirms that for years, bears have been observed in every one of the state's 21 counties.
Last year, he said 15 urban bears were caught and relocated to wilder areas.
Forty-nine "nuisance bears" in more exurban locations were caught, shot with non-lethal rubber buckshots -- to scare them away from humans -- and then released.
Fish and wildlife officials shot and killed 25 bears, with local police shooting another six.
In the case of Union Township's bear shooting by police, Ragonese said DEP agents were busy elsewhere on another urban bear sighting and could not get to Union to capture that bear.
"It's exactly how the system is supposed to work," Ragonese said of approving the police director's decision to shoot the bear out of concern for public safety.