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Bakersfield Police Department Agrees To Adopt Broad Policing Reforms Following State Investigation

The California Department of Justice has reached an agreement Monday with the Bakersfield Police Department to implement a wide-range of policing reforms.

The state began its investigation in 2016 following a surge of citizen complaints, said Attorney General Rob Bonta.

“The California Department of Justice launched an investigation that in our estimation revealed that the Bakersfield Police Department failed to uniformly and adequately enforce the law, leading to a pattern or practice of conduct that deprived Bakersfield residents of their constitutional protections.”

The investigation alleged that the Bakersfield Police Department’s conduct resulted in unreasonable use of force, unreasonable stops, searches, arrests and seizures. Among other actions, the investigation found the use of unreasonable deadly force against those with mental health disabilities, failure to adequately address civilian complaints, failure to provide meaningful access to police services to individuals with limited English proficiency and lack of a comprehensive community policing program.

High on the list of reforms is revising the department’s use of force policies and procedures, requiring anything above a standard handcuffing to be reported. The department will also modify its K-9 related policies. De-escalation practices will be a focus with officer training, and there will be an emphasis on analyzing racial profiling data to ensure bias free policing, said Bonta.

“This is broad and comprehensive and will lead to significant change going forward that will help build trust between the Bakersfield Police Department and the community,” he said.

The reforms are necessary, he said, and will be enforced through the courts.A five-year plan has been put in place to make sure the reforms happen, including hiring an independent monitor to oversee the changes.

Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Terry says the department agreed to the monitor because it has nothing to hide. Some changes, like issuing body cameras for officers, are already being made. 

“We will hold ourselves accountable and be a strong partner consistent with our mission and responsibilities to the city council and to the residents that we serve,” Terry said.

On August 17, the ACLU released its own report on the Bakersfield Police Department, updating its 2017 analysis of the department’s conduct and use-of-force complaints. SoCal Staff Attorney Stephanie Padilla reacted to the judgement.

“We are glad that the state Department of Justice recognizes there are systemic problems with the Bakersfield Police Department. But this stipulated judgment doesn't go nearly far enough. It will not, on its own, eliminate deeply harmful practices such as the use of canine force or discriminatory traffic stops for excessive force and intimidation, especially on Black and Brown community members.”

The agreement calls for a revised hiring program to hire officers that reflect the diversity of Bakersfield’s population. It also increases accountability for officers, including an annual public report on misconduct complaints. 


Soreath Hok is a multimedia journalist with experience in radio, television and digital production. She is a 2022 National Edward R. Murrow Award winner. At KVPR she covers local government, politics and other local news.
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