By David M. Greenwald
Oakland, CA – The Bakersfield Police Chief disagrees with the findings, but on Monday, AG Rob Bonta and Chief Greg Terry entered into a stipulated judgment regarding the policies and practices of the BPD.
BPD under this agreement will be required 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.
“We’ve heard the calls for change to how we police. They have been loud. They have been clear. We’ve heard them in Bakersfield,” Bonta said in a press conference Monday morning. “The community spoke out about a number of practices, including concerns around excessive force and other serious misconduct. When communities speak out about injustice, it’s our job as leaders, not just to listen, we must take action to correct it.”
Bonta explained that following an outcry from the public and reports in the media, the DOJ “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.”
Findings, Bonta said, included allegations that the Bakersfield Police Department’s conduct resulted in, among other actions on reasonable use of force, unreasonable stops, searches arrests, and seizures, the use of unreasonable deadly force against those with mental health disabilities, the failure to provide meaningful access to police services and to individuals with limited English proficiency, the failure to provide equal employment opportunities, the failure to adequately address civilian complaints and the lack of a comprehensive community policing program.
“These are serious allegations, and I’d like to thank the Bakersfield Police Department for being willing to address them both by implementing constructive action,” he said.
In December 2016, the DOJ began a civil investigation to determine whether BPD had engaged in a pattern or practice of violating state or federal law.
According to the AG’s office, that 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.”
In its complaint, the AG alleges 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 that needed to be addressed.
Chief Greg Terry, however, disagreed with those findings even as he agreed to enter into the agreement with the DOJ.
“We believe the state’s concerns are unfounded, and we have nothing to hide over the years. Courts and judges have consistently validated the police department’s efforts to preserve the civil rights of our residents,” he said.
Terry explained that they had two courses of action in response to the investigation.
“We could engage in costly and divisive legal proceedings (with) the attorney general, or we could come to an agreement without finding of any fault that puts (forward) a path for the police department to demonstrate that we are a professional organization, that we are accountable, transparent, and connected to our community,” he said.
So the choice, he said, “came down to litigating the past or controlling our future, reassuring our community and moving forward in a positive way after much deliberation. And upon my recommendation, the city council decided to adopt this agreement.”
The chief believes the agreement “exceeds state law” and “reflects the improvements the police department has already made or was already in the process of making on our own.”
In response to a question by the Vanguard as to the significance of the chief not accepting responsibility here for wrongdoing, Bonta downplayed its significance.
“I don’t believe it impacts our ability to address problems moving forward,” Bonta responded. “I think we have a very strong, clear, firm and certain commitment to changes. There has been throughout the process a very clear commitment to making changes that will improve and provide a pathway forward. I expect to see those changes implemented.”
He believes in the structure of this stipulated agreement with an independent court monitor and a court to help assist.
Among the remedies include a revision of use-of-force policies, modification of canine-related policies, improvement in use-of-force reporting, supervisory investigations for all reportable uses of force, strengthening use-of-force training, and analyzing the Racial and Identity Profiling Act data among many other things.
Attorney General Rob Bonta added, “Where there’s injustice, we must correct it. This agreement with the city and its police department will help make that happen.”
He added, “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.”