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Grand Jury: Kern County Sheriff's Office hampered by lack of staff, funding

Kern County Sheriff's Office Building Sign, Bakersfield (FILE)
Posted at 3:55 PM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-26 16:22:29-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The Kern County Grand Jury released its report on the progress the Kern County Sheriff's Office has made in achieving compliance with an agreement it made with the Department of Justice over its policing procedures.

The sheriff's office and the Bakersfield Police Department were notified in December of 2016 that the Civil Rights Enforcement section of the DOJ had opened investigations of both departments following complaints filed by community activist groups. The investigations centered on allegations of excessive force, officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths, and civil rights violations.

The investigation led the DOJ to issue stipulated judgments for both organizations. As a result, the County of Kern and KCSO agreed to engage in a comprehensive set of corrective actions — to be overseen by an independent monitor — to promote public safety, increase transparency and accountability, and enhance KCSO’s relationship with the community by ensuring all individuals are treated with dignity and respect.

To address these concerns and the investigation’s findings, DOJ and KCSO worked cooperatively to establish a five-year plan that provides for an extensive range of corrective actions, including to:

  • Review and revise use-of-force policies and principles.
  • Modify canine-related policies and training.
  • Strengthen use-of-force reporting.
  • Require supervisory investigations for all reportable uses of force.
  • Improve use-of-force training.
  • Analyze use-of-force data.
  • Reiterate that investigatory stops or detentions may only occur where there is reasonable suspicion of a crime.
  • Require deputies to be able to articulate a valid reason under law to conduct a consent search.
  • Provide all dispatchers and their supervisors with crisis intervention training.
  • Ensure timely and meaningful access to police services to all members of the Kern County community.
  • Develop a written recruitment plan.
  • Broaden efforts to actively participate in community engagement efforts.
  • Conduct a biennial community survey.
  • Establish a clear definition of what constitutes a civilian complaint.

The Grand Jury opened an investigation to determine the status of enacting the changes ordered by the Stipulated Judgment and whether the $1.3 million provided by the county for that purpose is being spent appropriately. As part of the investigation, the Grand Jury used various methods including surveys, questionnaires, raw data from reports, archival data, agency-specific documentation, and interviews of personnel.

KCSO stated that 70% of the Stipulated Judgment recommendations have already been achieved, including adding a Compliance Coordinator at the Chief Deputy level; the creation of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion director; and the formation of a Community Advisory Committee. However, the KCSO admitted that a lack of personnel has made it difficult for the department to meet some of its expectations.

The Grand Jury noted that: "Staffing levels are at an all-time low, and the KCSO is strained by a lack of qualified candidates to fill vacancies. Positions remain vacant placing a burden on the existing workforce."

The Grand Jury also noted that "antiquated" software and data are hampering the KCSO's ability to fulfill the Stipulated Judgment requirements.

As a result of its investigation, the Grand Jury recommended that funding for the KCSO be increased to improve technology within the department through a ballot measure to increase the county sales tax by one percent from 7.25% to 8.25%. As well as that a general tax is levied to fund general government purposes.

It also recommended the county set up studies to look at KCSO's technology needs, as well as its hiring and recruitment practices.

Finally, it recommended setting up a public website to allow for greater transparency.

A copy of the settlement with the County of Kern and KCSO is available here. A copy of the complaint is available here.


Kern County Grand Jury Report