Questions raised about BPD study contract

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) The Bakersfield Police Department will get an expert review aimed at improving service, but one city councilman has questions about the contract for the study and what it will achieve.

On Wednesday night, the Bakersfield City Council approved a $96,000 contract with the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The vote was 6-1, with Councilman Russell Johnson against the idea.

"We're going to end up paying a consultant to tell us what we already know," Johnson complained at the meeting. He's not happy about that, and also asks why only one firm was asked to do the job.

"There are consulting firms who do similar work, but in our opinion they don't have the credentials, the depth of staff, the knowledge," City Manager Alan Tandy responded on Thursday. "They provide a service on a level that isn't matched by typical consulting firms."

While Russell may not agree with the contract, there's clear agreement that officials, police, and the public all want faster BPD response.

Tandy said that's the most common complaint. "People don't feel good about waiting when their homes are violated," he told Eyewitness News.

Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson has reported the average priority response is about 12 minutes. "We've been struggling with providing adequate response times with the staff that we have," the chief recently told Eyewitness News.

That leads to another question from Johnson. He notes there are currently 34 vacant positions in the BPD, and wonders why the $96,000 isn't spent on hiring instead of a study.

"You can't really compare it to adding an officer, because that adds an officer for a year," Tandy said. "Not forever." The one-time expense of a study could have long term benefits, he says.

Tandy also said the city works to fill the vacant spots, they hire and train new officers as fast as they can. But it doesn't keep up with staff leaving or retiring from the department.

The city manager defended the study and contract at the meeting, and the other six council members had asked a number of questions. They all voted to approve the contact. Johnson remains skeptical.

He thinks the study will just tell the city to add more police officers, and they already know that. And, he notes they even have the funds for the 34 now-vacant positions.

But, Tandy says the review may produce other ideas.

"We think there's a good chance that it will have some creative suggestions that will help a challenging situation," he said. Tandy said that could include things like different technology, or different use of staff.

Chief Williamson had told Eyewitness News he likes the idea of getting some new insight or guidance from the experts. "We believe it's always encouraging to have a fresh set of eyes to come in and look at what we're doing," he said.

City officials say IACP study will take four to six months. And Tandy looks forward to seeing their recommendations.

"To the degree we can make inroads and do a little better -- then, that's what we're trying to do," Tandy said. "To see if there are ways to get better."