The Bakersfield Police Department outlined the first steps it has taken to comply with a settlement agreement with the state’s Department of Justice in a webinar on Thursday.
The agreement was reached last August after a four-year DOJ investigation into alleged civil rights violations committed by the BPD. The agreement allowed the city to deny wrongdoing, but required BPD to enact a long list of reforms intended to restore community trust.
During the webinar, BPD Chief Greg Terry said demonstrating the department’s compliance with the agreement was of the utmost importance.
“Nothing is more important to a community than ensuring all of our residents feel safe and protected,” he said. “It is important to the Bakersfield Police Department that we treat people with respect and that we fulfill our responsibilities.”
The webinar served as the first public introduction of the independent monitor who will ensure BPD complies with the agreement over the next five years.
Debra Kirby, the chief legal officer at Chicago-based consultant Jensen Hughes, serves as the independent monitor, and is backed by a team of her coworkers. The team first visited Bakersfield on Jan. 10, and intends to meet in the city every five weeks throughout the course of the agreement.
In the future, Kirby said she intends to more fully engage the community.
“We recognize that we have significant ground to cover in terms of our more full community engagement,” Kirby said during the meeting.
The DOJ settlement touches on nearly every aspect of the BPD, but focuses on the department’s use of force. It requires officers to use concepts like proportionality and deescalation techniques, along with requiring changes to civilian encounters, engagements with people in crisis and those with limited English proficiency, as well as recruitment and accountability.
In the first several months of the agreement, Terry said, the department had worked on establishing the independent monitor and training all of its employees on the agreement, which is one of the stipulations.
The overall message of the webinar was to show BPD’s intent to establish trust with members of the community. By hosting the webinar, the department hoped to show the community its commitment to accountability.
“I can say with certainty that the men and women with the Bakersfield Police Department will work diligently to uphold the agreement,” Terry said. “We have a strong desire to complete this as soon as possible, so we have been really hard at work.”
In the new future, BPD will seek to establish a community advisory panel to aid in the reform process.
“We felt it was the best way to kick off this year explaining how this impacts everyone of our police members and how this will make Bakersfield a better, safer community,” said Nadine Escalante, a community member who is aiding the department through the process, “and how it’s going to heal the relationships between Bakersfield and law enforcement.”
You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.