BAKERSFIELD — The ACLU of California today released a report on the use of excessive force by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and Bakersfield Police Department. The findings of the study show a disturbing pattern of shootings, beatings and canine attacks by police and sheriff's deputies, beyond what was called for in numerous law enforcement situations, especially when dealing with unarmed individuals.
In recent years, Kern County Sheriff's deputies shot and killed considerably more people than law enforcement agencies in areas of equivalent population sizes. And the Bakersfield Police Department had the highest rate of police homicides per capita of the country’s 60 largest police departments.
More than a quarter of the Bakersfield Police officers' deadly shootings since 2009 killed someone unarmed and the majority of shootings by Kern County Sheriff's deputies involved someone unarmed or armed only with a knife.
The study also points to evidence that canine attacks are overused by police officers and sheriff's deputies in the area, and that there is a practice of filing intimidating or retaliatory charges against individuals subjected to excessive force.
The use of excessive force and intimidation tactics, in many cases, violate citizens’ constitutional rights. Yet these abuses are built into the very culture of these law enforcement agencies.
The study was compiled through interviews and detailed reviews of court documents, coroners’ reports, state data and media reports, among other sources.
In conjunction with the release of the report, the ACLU of California sent a letter to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, urging him to use his office’s investigatory powers to access documents that were not available to the ACLU of California to examine individual uses of force by the Kern County Sheriff's deputies and Bakersfield Police officers. The Attorney General's Office opened a civil rights investigation into both agencies in December 2016.
"We urge the Office of the Attorney General to take all action within its power to correct the patterns and practices we've identified," said Adrienna Wong, staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California. "The people of Kern County have the right to live free from police excessive force."
The ACLU of California report concludes with several steps that should be taken by both law enforcement agencies to cut down and hopefully eliminate excessive use of force. They include limiting the use of force to cases where it’s required to make a lawful arrest or protect an officer or third party from an immediate safety threat. Also, the agencies need to clarify for their officers that the use of force must be necessary and proportional to the situation. And because of the history of the law enforcement agencies’ inability to control and reasonably use dog attacks, their canine programs should be ended.
Read the Attorney General letter here: https://www.aclusocal.org/sites/default/files/letter_to_attorney_general_re_kern_county.pdf