OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced that the California Department of Justice (DOJ) has entered into a stipulated judgment with the City of Bakersfield and the Bakersfield Police Department (BPD), regarding BPD’s policies and practices.
The stipulated judgment follows a comprehensive investigation by DOJ and constructive action by BPD to improve its practices, including outfitting officers with body-worn cameras, volunteering to collect data early under the Racial and Identity Profiling Act, and implementing a community collaboration initiative. The stipulated judgment announced today resolves DOJ’s allegations regarding BPD’s policies and practices as outlined in the complaint. As part of the agreement, the City of Bakersfield and BPD will engage in a comprehensive set of actions — to be overseen by an independent monitor — to promote public safety, strengthen oversight and accountability systems, continue to increase support for officers, and protect the statutory and constitutional rights of the people of Bakersfield.
“As Attorney General, I’m committed to strengthening trust between our communities and law enforcement. That is a critical part of public safety,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “Where there’s injustice, we must correct it. This agreement with the city and its police department will help make that happen. The findings of our investigation demonstrate how critical it is that we act. These reforms are both needed and necessary. For Californians who are hurting, trust will not come back overnight — and we cannot afford to be complacent. We must continue to engage and stay on task. Justice demands it. But, together, I’m confident that we can build a brighter future for all of our communities. I look forward to the work ahead.”
“After much deliberation, and upon my recommendation, the City decided to adopt this agreement; the decision came down to a choice between litigating the past or controlling our future, reassuring our community, and moving forward in a positive way,” said Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Terry. “The agreement is detailed, and in many instances, exceeds state law, reflecting improvements that the Police Department has already made or was already in the process of making on its own. We appreciate that, in the Agreement, the Department of Justice explicitly acknowledges the Police Department’s progress. The men and women of the Bakersfield Police Department will work diligently to honor this Agreement with professionalism, commitment, and integrity. We will hold ourselves accountable and be a strong partner, consistent with our mission and responsibility to the City Council and residents that we serve.”
In December 2016, DOJ began a civil investigation to determine whether BPD had engaged in a pattern or practice of violating state or federal law. The investigation was informed by complaints made by individuals and community organizations, as well as by media reports, which alleged the use of excessive force and other serious misconduct. After a comprehensive investigation, DOJ concluded that BPD failed to uniformly and adequately enforce the law, leading to a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives residents of constitutional protections. Specifically, DOJ alleges in its complaint that BPD’s conduct resulted in the use of unreasonable force, as well as unreasonable stops, searches, arrests, and seizures. The investigation also identified other violations, including failure to exercise appropriate management and supervision; the use of unreasonable deadly force against individuals with a mental health disability and those undergoing a mental health crisis; failure to provide meaningful access to police services to individuals with limited English proficiency; failure to provide equal employment opportunities; failure to adequately maintain a meaningful program to address civilian complaints; and the lack of a comprehensive community policing program.
To address these concerns and the investigation’s findings, DOJ, BPD, and the City of Bakersfield worked cooperatively to establish a five-year plan that provides for an extensive range of actions, including to:
- Revise use-of-force policies and principles to, include focusing on the concepts of necessity, proportionality, and de-escalation; require officers to intervene; define an imminent threat justifying lethal force that is consistent with current California law; prohibit the use of electronic control weapons on handcuffed individuals and children; require employees to avoid restraining a subject face down whenever possible; and provide that the conduct of both the officer and subject leading up to a use of deadly force must be included in evaluating the incident;
- Modify canine-related policies and training, ensuring that canine deployments are carried out in a manner consistent with “bark and hold” techniques to search for and locate subjects, rather than immediately resorting to force;
- Expand and improve use-of-force reporting, requiring anything above a standard hand-cuffing to be reported, and holding officers accountable for material omissions or inaccuracies in use-of-force statements;
- Require supervisory investigations for all reportable uses of force, taking steps to hold supervisors accountable for not detecting, adequately investigating, or responding to force that is unreasonable or otherwise contrary to policy;
- Strengthen use-of-force training, working with the independent monitor to enhance de-escalation techniques and interactive exercises that illustrate proper use-of-force decision-making;
- Regularly assess trends in use-of-force data, and meet with a community advisory panel to receive input on policies and procedures from community representatives and organizations;
- Analyze the Racial and Identity Profiling Act data on a semi-annual basis and consult with the monitor to develop any necessary improvements to policies and procedures related to bias-free policing;
- Ensure stops, searches, and seizures comply with the law, as part of an effective overall crime prevention strategy that does not contribute to counter-productive tension with the community;
- Enhance and revise training with respect to investigatory stops, reiterating that race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation are not to be used as a factor in establishing reasonable suspicion or probable cause, except as part of actual and credible descriptions of a specific suspect;
- Provide crisis intervention training to all dispatchers and their supervisors, as well as establishing a preference for peace officers 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;
- Take steps to ensure timely and meaningful access to police services to all members of the Bakersfield community, regardless of their ability to speak, read, write, hear, or understand English;
- Review and revise as necessary the recruitment, hiring, and promotion program, in order to maintain high-level, quality service through efforts to successfully attract, hire, and promote qualified officers who reflect the diversity of the Bakersfield community;
- Develop a community engagement plan, continuing to constructively engage with the community to ensure collaborative problem-solving and bias-free policing, as well as to increase transparency and community confidence; and
- Ensure all allegations of personnel misconduct are received, documented, investigated, and adjudicated, publishing an annual report of personnel complaint data to be made publicly available by April 1 of each year.