By Janell Gore, South Kern Sol
Based on community input, the Bakersfield Police Department Community Collaborative recommended to the Bakersfield City Council the department focus on officer training and education; communication and community outreach; use of force policy and oversight; and building trust and legitimacy among the community.
These recommendations were presented to the council at the May 5 meeting by collaborative members Michael Burrows and Traco Mathews.
“Change is an incremental process,” Burrows told the council members. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”
The BPD-CC, which was put in place to build trust between the police department and the community, gained community input regarding recommendations by holding listening sessions with residents, and community members shared their experiences with BPD and their concerns.
In total, 192 people attended the sessions. There was also a survey for community members, in which 929 responses from community members were submitted.
“Evidence suggests this is beyond unreasonable doubt. If you have effective de-escalation policies in place, it reduces use of force in a couple of ways,” said Burrows during the presentation at the meeting. “There are fewer incidents, and there’s less use of deadly use of force which is one of the reasons why we started undertook this work in the first place for George Floyd.”
For training and education, the collaborative recommended having research institutions work on the academy curriculum, striving for antri-racist policing, mental health training, and focusing on ethics and values.
For communications and outreach, the recommendations include continuing listening sessions with the community, designating a Diversity and Community Liaison Officer for community engagement and outreach activities, and improving transparency amongst the BPD website and social media platforms. They would also like for a survey to be continued for community input.
“Culture has to change in order for trust to be restored or strengthened, especially for communities of color,” said Burrows stating what was heard from the community. “The behaviors can be good. What you have written down on paper can be good, but the perception also must be pristine and solid and good. That means your policies must articulately declare and state your genuine care for every single citizen in Bakersfield.”
Use of force and oversight recommendations include implementing policy changes, creating positions specifically for diversity recruitment, having three psychological evaluators for the evaluations and keeping diversity in mind when picking the evaluators, and increasing accountability for use or force.
The last section of recommendations is for building trust and legitimacy. The recommendations are to hire an independent auditor and create a formal citizens review board, integrating services of mental health professionals and training officers to deal with mental health and addiction challenges, use community collaborations to increase empathy and trust, and modify the “Gang Members Documentation” checklist.
These recommendations are to help BPD and the members of the community work together and trust each other more. In the final statement of the presentation Mathews expressed how important these recommendations are.
“For many, these recommendations are simple recommendations,” Mathews said. “For me, they are a prayer of hope. I know that no matter what I wear, where I live, how I for financially, how strong my reputation is in the community, I’m still far more likely to be harassed, injured, or killed by law enforcement than the average person.”