BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Several years ago, the California Department of Justice led by then-Attorney General Kamala Harris opened a civil investigation into the Bakersfield Police Department. It came about due to complaints of excessive use of force and other issues.
Attorney General investigating KCSO, BPD
“As Attorney General, I’m committed to strengthening trust between our communities and law enforcement. That is a critical part of public safety,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “Where there’s injustice, we must correct it. This agreement with the city and its police department will help make that happen."
On Monday, the DOJ and the BPD announced that they had come to an agreement on how to move forward with guidelines and policies set by the DOJ to help the department improve its relationship with the community. The DOJ says that BPD’s conduct could have resulted in the unreasonable use of force, stops, searches, arrests, and seizures. Even though the BPD denies the allegations, they want to work collaboratively with the DOJ to make improvements.
“We do not agree with the findings and the conclusions made by the DOJ, but what today was about was coming to an agreement without any finding of fault to really look forward to... to find a path forward to demonstrate that we’re a model agency, that we’re professional, that we’re accountable, transparent and connected to our community,” said Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Terry.
The investigation that Chief Terry is referring to was initially launched in 2016 after multiple complaints and media investigations into BPD conduct, including the death of Francisco Serna, a 73-year-old man with dementia who was shot by Bakersfield Police who thought he had a gun. It was later determined it was a crucifix.
Bonta says the investigation revealed that BPD failed to adequately enforce the law.
“The communities spoke out about a number of practices, including concerns around excessive force and other various misconduct. When communities speak out about injustice, it’s our job as leaders not to just listen, we must take action to correct it.”
The corrective actions are part of a five-year plan to correct the police department’s actions and try to regain the community’s trust.
“The Bakersfield Police Department will revise the use of force policies and strengthen training, including a focus on de-escalation and other best practices prohibiting the use of tasers on handcuffed individuals or children, requiring employees to avoid restraining a subject face down whenever possible and clearly defining what qualifies as an imminent threat justifying lethal force in a manner consistent with California law,” said Bonta.
There is a whole list of far-ranging guidelines, including policies around the use of force including focusing on de-escalation. Other changes include analyzing data from the Racial and Identity Profiling Act, developing community engagement plans, providing crisis intervention training to dispatchers, and more.
What is the Racial and Identity Profiling Act?
The Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) was formed as part of AB953 (Weber, 2016). The Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board (RIPA Board) is a diverse group of members that represent the public, law enforcement and educators. At the direction of the Legislature, their charge is to eliminate racial and identity profiling, and improve diversity and racial and identity sensitivity in law enforcement. The RIPA Board aims to strengthen law enforcement-community relations in California through collaboration, transparency, and accountability. The California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, has the primary oversight of the RIPA Board.
One of the responsibilities of the RIPA Board has been to develop the stop-data collection process, that has been included into Regulation.
Chief Terry says he is not worried that the recommendations outlined would be rejected by police officers, make it difficult to recruit officers, or that the policies would put law enforcement lives in danger.
“We cannot fulfill our public safety responsibilities without the support of the community, and so we know that trust-building and partnerships are very important, and we are going to continue to work to build those.”
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH CHIEF GREG TERRY:
And the efforts for reform here in Bakersfield come not only as Kern County is seeing a rise in lethal use of force by law enforcement but the state and the nation as well. 23ABC took a deeper look at a recent study from the Washington Post (subscription required) that shows that the number of officer-involved shootings has been increasing since 2015.
According to the study, police shootings have taken place in every state and have occurred more frequently in cities where populations are concentrated. States with the highest rates of shootings are New Mexico, Alaska, and Oklahoma. The study showing that California has had an average of 25 officer-involved shootings per million people within the state. Overall, the state has seen 960 shootings since 2015.
In addition, the study found that "Although half of the people shot and killed by police are White, Black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate. They account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of White Americans. Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate." Furthermore, "An overwhelming majority of people shot and killed by police are male — over 95 percent. More than half the victims are between 20 and 40 years old."
The Washington Post's study says police nationwide have shot and killed nearly 1,000 people every year since 2015 when this study began.
A statement released on Monday listed the following changes as part of a 5-year plan:
- Revise use-of-force policies and principles to, include focusing on the concepts of necessity, proportionality, and de-escalation; require officers to intervene; define an imminent threat justifying lethal force that is consistent with current California law; prohibit the use of electronic control weapons on handcuffed individuals and children; require employees to avoid restraining a subject face down whenever possible; and provide that the conduct of both the officer and subject leading up to a use of deadly force must be included in evaluating the incident;
- Modify canine-related policies and training, ensuring that canine deployments are carried out in a manner consistent with “bark and hold” techniques to search for and locate subjects, rather than immediately resorting to force;
- Expand and improve use-of-force reporting, requiring anything above a standard hand-cuffing to be reported, and holding officers accountable for material omissions or inaccuracies in use-of-force statements;
- Require supervisory investigations for all reportable uses of force, taking steps to hold supervisors accountable for not detecting, adequately investigating, or responding to force that is unreasonable or otherwise contrary to policy;
- Strengthen use-of-force training, working with the independent monitor to enhance de-escalation techniques and interactive exercises that illustrate proper use-of-force decision-making;
- Regularly assess trends in use-of-force data, and meet with a community advisory panel to receive input on policies and procedures from community representatives and organizations;
- Analyze the Racial and Identity Profiling Act data on a semi-annual basis and consult with the monitor to develop any necessary improvements to policies and procedures related to bias-free policing;
- Ensure stops, searches, and seizures comply with the law, as part of an effective overall crime prevention strategy that does not contribute to counter-productive tension with the community;
- Enhance and revise training with respect to investigatory stops, reiterating that race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation are not to be used as a factor in establishing reasonable suspicion or probable cause, except as part of actual and credible descriptions of a specific suspect;
- Provide crisis intervention training to all dispatchers and their supervisors, as well as establishing a preference for peace officers who are specifically trained in dealing with individuals in mental health crisis or suffering from a mental health disability to respond to such calls for assistance;
- Take steps to ensure timely and meaningful access to police services to all members of the Bakersfield community, regardless of their ability to speak, read, write, hear, or understand English;
- Review and revise as necessary the recruitment, hiring, and promotion program, in order to maintain high-level, quality service through efforts to successfully attract, hire, and promote qualified officers who reflect the diversity of the Bakersfield community;
- Develop a community engagement plan, continuing to constructively engage with the community to ensure collaborative problem-solving and bias-free policing, as well as to increase transparency and community confidence; and
- Ensure all allegations of personnel misconduct are received, documented, investigated, and adjudicated, publishing an annual report of personnel complaint data to be made publicly available by April 1 of each year.