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Criminal Justice

Bakersfield Police Agree To Reforms To Address Excessive Force, Other Problems

A Bakersfield police vehicle makes patrols on November 17, 2017 in Bakersfield, Kern County, California.
(Frederic J. Brown
AFP via Getty Images)
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California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Monday that his office has reached an agreement with the Bakersfield Police Department aimed at addressing a range of department failures, including unreasonable use of deadly force.

The state Department of Justice’s “stipulated judgement” comes after its nearly five-year investigation found the Bakersfield department “failed to uniformly and adequately enforce the law, leading to a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives residents of constitutional protections,” according to a DOJ statement.

The investigation found, among other violations, that Bakersfield police have carried out unreasonable stops, searches, arrests and seizures, and have used unreasonable deadly force against individuals with a mental health disability.

Earlier this year, the California Reporting Project found that, between 2016 and 2019, “Bakersfield police officers used force that broke at least 45 bones in 31 people,” according to public records. As of this June, no Bakersfield police officers had been disciplined for any of those incidents, the Reporting Project said.

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An unmarked police car with the novelty license plate "2 Jail" is parked at a fast food drive through in the town of Bakersfield, California on February 3, 2010.
(Mark Ralston
AFP via Getty Images)

A Long List Of Required Reforms

“When communities speak out about injustice, it’s our job as leaders not just [to] listen; we must take action to correct it,” Bonta said at a news conference.

As part of the five-year plan outlined in the agreement, the Bakersfield Police Department will be required to complete an “extensive range of actions,” including:

  • Revise its use of force policies to focus them on deescalation and other techniques;
  • Provide crisis intervention training to all dispatchers and their supervisors;
  • Work with an appointed monitor to ensure bias-free policing;
  • Modify canine use of force tactics;
  • Document, investigate and adjudicate all allegations of police misconduct, and publish an annual report of complaint data;
  • Develop a community engagement plan.

The Department of Justice noted that Bakersfield has already implemented some reforms, including equipping officers with body-worn cameras.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaks during a news conference at San Francisco General Hospital on June 10, 2021.
(Justin Sullivan
Getty Images)

The agreement with the state avoids “costly and divisive” legal proceedings in favor of “coming to an agreement, without finding of any fault,” said Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Terry. “We believe the state’s concerns are unfounded and we have nothing to hide.”

Bonta’s office is also investigating the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for possible unconstitutional policing.

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