California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced a major settlement aimed at reforming a wide range of practices at the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
The proposed stipulated judgment lodged with the court today works to resolve DOJ's concerns, as alleged in its complaint. As a result of the agreement, the County of Kern and KCSO will 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.
The investigation was launched in December of 2016 after a 2015 article from The Guardian was released, naming the Kern County Sheriff's Office as the deadliest in the nation in police killings.
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 to, among other things, prohibit the use of maneuvers that create a substantial risk of positional asphyxia, emphasize that the use of force is not a routine part of policing, and make it an affirmative duty for deputies to intervene, when in a position to do so, against unnecessary or excessive force by another deputy;
- Modify canine-related policies and training, working to ensure canines are deployed in a manner consistent with “find and bark” rather than “find and bite” approaches and limiting off-leash canine deployments only to instances in which a suspect is wanted for a serious felony or is reasonably suspected to be armed based on individualized information;
- Strengthen use-of-force reporting, developing a policy and process to inform the public about all officer-involved shootings, deaths in custody, or other significant matters;
- Require supervisory investigations for all reportable uses of force, including requirements for supervisors to respond to the scene and document findings in a “Supervisor’s Report on Use of Force”;
- Improve use-of-force training, working with the independent monitor to incorporate training on, among other things, de-escalation techniques, principles of procedural justice, and how bias can impact threat assessments;
- Analyze use-of-force data, meeting with a community advisory panel to receive input into policies and procedures from community representatives from various, diverse stakeholder groups;
- Reiterate that investigatory stops or detentions may only occur where there is reasonable suspicion of a crime, requiring deputies during such encounters to state the reason for an investigatory stop or detention as soon as practicable;
- Require deputies be able to articulate a valid reason under law to conduct a consent search, securing supervisory approval before conducting any such searches of a home;
- Provide all dispatchers and their supervisors with crisis intervention training, as well as establishing a preference for deputies 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;
- Ensure timely and meaningful access to police services to all members of the Kern County community, including incarcerated individuals, regardless of their ability to speak, read, write, or understand English;
- Develop a written recruitment plan, including clear goals, objectives, and action steps for attracting and retaining a quality workforce that reflects the diversity of the Kern County community;
- Broaden efforts to actively participate in community engagement efforts, including participating in local community meetings and working with the community on the development of diversion programs;
- Conduct a biennial community survey, seeking, in part, to measure public satisfaction with policing, attitudes among personnel in the sheriff's office, and the quality of deputy-citizen encounters; and
- Establish a clear definition of what constitutes a civilian complaint, including non-traditional sources of complaints such as online video posts by community members depicting apparent deputy misconduct.
A copy of the settlement with the County of Kern and KCSO is available here. A copy of the complaint is available here.