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Bakersfield Police Must Fix Deadly Force, Racism, Says ACLU

A new report claims the city has failed to address longstanding practices of excessive force and racial discrimination. The police department says the report is an ‘attack’ and contains misinformation.

(TNS) — A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California says the Bakersfield Police Department has failed to address longstanding practices of excessive force and racial discrimination.

Released Tuesday, the report is an update of a similar study the ACLU conducted in 2017. Both reports fault BPD for having one of the highest rates of police killings in the United States, with practices that "targeted" people of color and the mentally ill.

The latest report comes as the California Department of Justice is concluding an investigation into BPD for allegations of civil rights violations and excessive use of force. The investigation started in 2016, but the ACLU says little has changed in the following years.

In fact, the claim that BPD has resisted outside attempts to reform its policies stretches back more than five years. In 2004, the U.S. Department of Justice recommended several reforms to BPD's use-of-force policy, but the ACLU says key components have still not been adopted.

"We're talking about 17 years that BPD has been on the radar for folks for these really problematic and unconstitutional practices, and nothing has changed," said ACLU Staff Attorney Stephanie Padilla.

In a statement, BPD criticized the ACLU's report for using supposedly out of context statistics in an attempt to generate publicity.

"The misinformation contained in the document is irresponsible and without regard for the men and women who put their lives at risk every day to protect the community," the BPD statement said. "The allegations are not credible and do not in any way represent a legitimate review of the Bakersfield Police Department."

BPD says the report was issued without giving the department the opportunity to fact check or provide comment on its conclusions.

"As a professional law enforcement organization we are committed to protecting our community and professionally serving all of our residents with respect, compassion, and accountability," the statement continued. "We will continue to work with our community to transparently provide accurate information and address concerns. We will not let this latest attack distract us from our mission."

According to the ACLU, BPD has the ninth-highest rate of killings per population, with 9 killings per 1 million residents from 2013 to 2020. Only the San Bernardino Police Department was higher in California, the report says.

Many of the people shot by BPD display signs of mental illness, according to the ACLU report. The report says 69 percent of the individuals shot by police between 2018 and 2020 displayed signs of mental illness.

Part of the problem, the ACLU alleges, is that BPD's use-of-force policy does not include clear standards for when non-deadly and deadly force are authorized, relying instead on an officer's use of "reasonable force" when responding to a variety of scenarios.

The wide-ranging report touches on many sore spots that have been brought up by members of the community for years.

The ACLU alleges BPD's gang unit primarily patrols neighborhoods where black and brown residents live, resulting in over-policing when compared to white neighborhoods. Furthermore, the ACLU claims BPD uses "cover charges" to defend against allegations of excessive force and racial profiling.

In 2018, 25 percent of people arrested after a use-of-force incident were charged only with resisting arrest, raising the question of why the individuals were confronted by police in the first place. In 2019, the number was 21 percent.

"It's really problematic, and really corroborates some of the stories that community members told us," Padilla said. "For us, that was really concerning to see how high these numbers were."

The timing of the report is meant to correspond with the conclusion of the state DOJ's investigation. On Wednesday, the Bakersfield City Council is scheduled to meet in closed session to discuss the investigation, a potential sign the department's work is complete.

"These are some of the ways in which the DOJ could create a stronger mandate in helping to stop a lot of these abuses that we've documented here," Padilla said. "The patterns that we've documented here are the same that we documented four years ago, and they're the same that the community members have been calling for change for years."

(c)2021 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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