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Bakersfield Police reforms: measuring progress after an agreement to change use of force practices

After years of scrutiny about how the Bakersfield Police Department does its job, the department has now begun a five year process of following through on a number of reforms laid out in an agreement with the California Department of Justice. The reforms include revising the department’s use of force policies and procedures, modifying its K-9 related policies and reshaping how officers respond to people with mental health disabilities.

Questions about mental health in policing have been part of the Department of Justice investigation since it began in December 2016, just 10 days after a Bakersfield police officer shot and killed 73-year-old Francisco Serna in front of his home. He was unarmed and suffered from dementia. His death sparked national and international media attention and community outcry.

In this report, KVPR and the California Reporting Project look at how the City of Bakersfield has continued to update its approach to mental illness in policing. This includes hiring a trained mental health clinician to work 40 hours a week at the police department’s dispatch center. Under its agreement with the state, BPD has promised it would designate an officer to coordinate crisis intervention by late February. According to the independent monitor hired to oversee the agreement, that hasn’t happened yet. But that monitor will hold her first public meeting on Thursday, March 24.

This story was produced with the California Reporting Project, a coalition of 40 news organizations across the state, including Stanford Journalism’s Watchdog Reporting Class, the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program.

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.