The mystery is solved, but there's still more to the story.

Neighbors around Ninth Street and Mapleton Avenue complained that police had shot and killed a rather impressive looking bull elk Tuesday night. The Boulder Police Department had no record of it -- because the officers involved reportedly didn't tell them about it -- so they disputed the neighbors' accounts.

The problem in a nutshell is that one uniformed officer was photographed holding the dead elk's rack very much like a hunter would, and another off duty officer was apparently getting ready for a freezer full of meat. Plus moving such a large game animal isn't a solo endeavor. The officer who shot the animal said it was wounded and suffering, and now both the police department and wildlife officials are looking into it.

Police are supposed to report when they discharge their weapons for any reason. And we'll wait to see what the investigation uncovers, but it should be noted that hunting is illegal within city limits. Poaching trophy animals like bull elks is also illegal, carrying fines of up to $10,000.

The initial reluctance with which the authorities treated this incident is disturbing. Neighbors insisted one thing, the police insisted another, and that -- it would seem -- was that. If it weren't for the reporting done (kudos in particular to Camera reporter Erica Meltzer, and to Mitchell Byars) and the photographic evidence provided to the Camera by the neighbors, we're not left with the sense that Boulder police or Colorado Parks and Wildlife were treating it as a serious issue, which it is.

Another issue is that while the police and parks are both rightfully conducting their own investigations into what happened, the shooting has illuminated a procedural gap. Wildlife rangers say police typically notify them when they kill a large animal. Somehow a police officer thought that killing a trophy animal -- which has plenty of photographic evidence -- and sending it off for some amateur butchering wouldn't raise eyebrows if his story (that the animal was wounded and suffering) was accepted by all. But there isn't a police report to support it and there are conflicting eye-witness accounts as to the animal's behavior.

The police department admitted that there is no policy about how animal shootings should be handled. Why not? This is Boulder: Animals including mountain lions, elk and bears are not uncommon. In addition to the expectation that the city's police officers will not break the law -- no hunting, no poaching -- there should be, at minimum, a policy in place so that if one does indeed put a large animal out of its alleged misery it will be handled appropriately.

-- Erika Stutzman, for

the Camera editorial board