Intervention Sought to Ensure the Bakersfield Police Dept Does Not Again Avoid Reform
BAKERSFIELD — The Bakersfield Police Department (BPD), long afflicted by a deadly culture of violence, racial discrimination, and a disregard of constitutional rights, was sued last month by California’s attorney general who announced a multi-year plan to reform the policies and practices of the department.
But governmental reform of the BPD — called “America’s deadliest police” in an investigative series — has been tried before and quickly undone to the point where in recent years the BPD had the highest rate of police homicides per capita of the country’s 60 largest police departments. And more than 80% of BPD shootings resulted in serious bodily injury or death to Black or Latine individuals.
The ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) and community organization Faith in the Valley — both of which worked for years to bring attention to BPD abuse and battle against it — have filed in superior court to intervene in the attorney general’s lawsuit. If granted, the intervention would bring crucial community involvement to this latest fight to curb BPD’s abuses.
Community members fear that without the on-the-ground, local involvement, the BPD could once again evade efforts to root out its violent culture.
“Currently, the only parties calling the shots in this case are government entities,” said Stephanie Padilla, staff attorney in the ACLU SoCal’s Kern County office. “Our intervention would give community members a seat at the table and enable us to ensure that the Bakersfield Police Department changes its policies and practices in a way that is actually meaningful to the community.”
California Attorney General Rob Bonta, in a statement issued when the state lawsuit against the BPD was filed, recognized the crucial importance of community involvement. “I’m committed to strengthening trust between our communities and law enforcement,” Bonta said. “This is a critical part of public safety.”
He announced, at the same time, a stipulated judgement with the BPD and the City of Bakersfield to institute reforms, overseen by an appointed monitor for up to five years.
The proposed intervention would give the ACLU SoCal, which has an office in Bakersfield, and Faith in the Valley, which has organized with Bakersfield community members impacted by police violence since 2015, the ability to access information about implementation of a variety of reforms set out in the attorney general’s settlement agreement with BPD. These include changes to use-of-force policies and principles; canine-related policies and training (a study showed that 89 percent of police canine attacks targeted Black and Latine individuals); revised training on traffic stops; and much more.
The ACLU SoCal and Faith in the Valley, whose past demands for reform have been disregarded by the police department, in particular have an interest in the BPD’s compliance with two relatively new laws — the California Act to Save Lives (AB 392) that redefined deadly use of force standards for law enforcement, and the Racial and Identity Profiling Act (AB 953) that requires collection of perceived data on everyone pulled over in a traffic stop.
With direct access to the case, the ACLU SoCal and Faith in the Valley could step in if the groups felt the BPD was not adopting meaningful reforms under the terms of the settlement agreement.
“Our experiences with BPD have shown us that when local institutions fail us, we, the community must intervene,” said Josth Stenner, community organizer with Faith in the Valley. “The community can’t afford to lose this opportunity to secure changes to BPD that could save lives.”
A key to true change is to include the input and oversight of people who are directly impacted by the actions of a now out-of-control police department.
“Interveners are organizations with members, staff, and clients who live, work, and raise families in the City of Bakersfield, who have been directly impacted by BPD policies and practices,” the court filing for intervention reads. “Interveners have a direct interest in ensuring that this action results in meaningful change.”
Read the motion to intervene