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ACLU critical of Bakersfield, Kern County law enforcement with use-of-force report

KBAK/KBFX photo, file

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California released a report Thursday critical of the force used by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and Bakersfield Police Department.

The ACLU says in a news release that the KCSO and BPD too often excessively deploy force when dealing with suspects, and its study found "a disturbing pattern of shootings, beatings and canine attacks."

The ACLU contends the BPD officers and KCSO deputies shoot and kill suspects more often than officers in comparably sized cities. The BPD, it says, has the highest rate of police homicides per capita among the country’s 60 largest police departments.

The group says too many unarmed suspects are shot during encounters with local officers, and the ACLU blames local law enforcement for their "inability to control and reasonably use dog attacks." The ACLU calls for the two departments to end their K-9 programs.

MORE | Read the ACLU's full report on BPD and KCSO use of force

Late last year, California's attorney general opened investigations into the KCSO and BPD for possible civil rights violations. The investigations are separate and both are civil, not criminal, in nature.

Sheriff Donny Youngblood told Eyewitness News on Thursday that he wouldn't comment on the ACLU report, adding that his department is cooperating with the DOJ investigation.

BPD Chief Lyle Martin also declined comment specifically on the ACLU report. The BPD released a statement that reads, in part:

"Chief Martin indicated when the California Department of Justice began its investigation in December 2016 that the Bakersfield Police Department would fully cooperate and collaborate with the investigation into the patterns and practices of the Department. The Bakersfield Police Department has been and remains committed to cooperating in the investigation. ... The men and women of the Bakersfield Police Department look forward to the findings and any recommendations that result from the California Department of Justice’s objective investigation."


David Kessler, president of the Kern Law Enforcement Association, slammed the ACLU for what he says is a one-sided report. He says the ACLU relied too much on information from suspects and made no effort to speak with the officers.

Kessler told Eyewitness News via email, in part:

"We invite the ACLU to walk a day in the shoes of law enforcement officers who work to ensure the public’s safety, while terrible laws that favor criminals, enacted by California politicians, cause a sharp rise in violent crime throughout our County. And declining budgets are forcing many of our officers to work in dangerous conditions – alone over very long hours, with backup many miles away."

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