The California Department of Justice announced a settlement Tuesday with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, following a four-year-long investigation into allegations of excessive force and other misconduct.
Among the issues filed: unreasonable stops, searches and seizures, access to services for people with language barriers and how the department addressed public complaints.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood says he doesn’t agree with everything alleged, but he decided to move forward once the Department of Justice agreed to remove constitutional violations from the settlement. Overall, Youngblood says the changes will work to improve the agency as a whole.
“It required us to look at ourselves. And one of the things we’ve learned is that we had relatively good policies but deputies weren’t always following those policies,” he says.
The settlement follows a violent year in Kern County: 135 homicides and 15 officer-involved shootings, according to Youngblood.
As part of the settlement, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office will begin providing every deputy with a body camera, forming a community survey committee, adding crisis intervention training and more.
Youngblood says the department has already made several of the changes agreed to in the settlement.
“Some of it we’ve already done part of it, like half of our department is already equipped with body cameras. We’re not starting from square one,” he says.
The Department of Justice will assign an independent monitor to make recommendations where needed. Youngblood says it’s part of a five-year plan to implement the changes in the settlement.
“If we can complete what the DOJ wants in three to four years, they have the ability to say, ‘we no longer need to monitor you,’ and that would end it. So we’re certainly striving for that. We welcome the monitor in to see what we’re doing,” he says.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors has approved an extra $5-6 million dollars next year in funding for the sheriff’s department. The sheriff’s department says board members expect that the cost of implementing these changes will be recurring.