behind the badge

Sgt. Ryan Kroeker tapes his "behind the badge" segment with BPD community relations specialist Kelsey Taylor.

Felix Adamo / The Californian

Since they began showing up in mid-May, the Bakersfield Police Department's videos featuring officers talking about why they chose a career in law enforcement are each averaging thousands of views on Facebook. 

The department is planning to continue posting a new video each Wednesday, each featuring an officer who shares a personal story of helping someone in the community.

In the most recent video, Sgt. Ryan Kroeker discussed a 2013 incident in which he went to a home where a man assaulted his wife in their home while their five children, ranging in age from 2 to 20, were present. The wife later died.

Kroeker recalled the look he saw on the children's faces as he told them their mother had died. Their lives were upended, and Kroeker said watching them go through a range of emotions as they processed what had happened impacted him as well.

That year, Kroeker bought Christmas gifts for each of the children in an effort to provide them with some semblance of normality for the holiday. He's still in touch with them.

He said the reason he wears the badge is to be "someone people can count on in their darkest hour."

The videos are part of an effort to combat mistrust of police following a series of high-profile, controversial deaths of unarmed men at the hands of officers both locally and in Missouri, South Carolina and Maryland, among other states, over the past few years.

Additionally, the image of law enforcement was tarnished with the convictions of former BPD Detectives Damacio Diaz and Patrick Mara for, among other things, conspiring to sell methamphetamine they seized in drug busts. In May, two former Kern County sheriff's deputies, Derrick Penney and Logan August, pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges stemming from the same investigation.

Kelsey Taylor, the BPD's community relations specialist, said it was difficult at first to get officers to participate in the videos. Many of them, she said, don't want to be the focus of attention and are naturally humble.

But they became more enthusiastic after they saw how they were being presented.

And the response online has been overwhelmingly positive.

One featuring Lt. Gary Carruesco had received 197 "likes" and was viewed around 5,000 times in a week's span. The June 21 video featuring Detective Verion Coleman has an estimated 10,000 views, as did one with Community Liaison Officer Jessica Amos, who gave her story in Spanish.

An officer in an upcoming video will speak Punjabi, thereby reaching another part of the city's population.

Kroeker's video, posted Wednesday, had already racked up an estimated 11,000 views by Friday morning, as well as 85 shares and dozens of comments.

"Thank you sergeant Ryan for showing these kids love through the most painful and tragic day in their life, you cared and showed them love in their darkness moment in life and because of you and your family these children will have hope in life," wrote Vanessa Garcia Soto. 

Another commenter, Tina Wilson, wrote, "Thank you officer Ryan Kroeker for sharing your touching story. God bless you and your family and thank you for your service to the community."

Carruesco, in his video, talked about returning to the scene of a homicide in an area known for gang activity.

He and his partner saw a couple kids playing basketball in the street. They stopped and joined in the game with the kids.

Carruesco said they were able to interact with the children in a positive way. Maybe, just by playing a game, it helped take their minds off the violence that occurred earlier that week.

"It was very rewarding for us to have this experience with them, and that's why we wear the badge," he said.

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