For months, the Bakersfield Police Department has been beleaguered with negative attention.
There have been a state Department of Justice investigation, a series of high-profile national incidents involving use of force and even a couple of rogue detectives who became drug kingpins, seizing dope from criminals then putting them back on the streets for their own financial gain.
All of that has created trust issues between the department and the community, something BPD Chief Martin Lyle acknowledged to The Californian Tuesday.
BPD has attempted to strengthen community relations, hosting Coffee with a Cop events and a popular “Why I Wear the Badge” video series on Facebook. But no matter how much it does, none of it captures as much attention as one high-profile national incident.
All 14 of the department’s “Why I Wear the Badge” videos released since May have about 100,000 views combined. An NAACP-released video of Tatyana Hargrove, a 19-year-old who was the victim of mistaken identity and attacked by a police K-9, got more than 7 million views in less than two weeks.
Martin said he doesn’t have a clear answer on how to change the negative perception of the department.
“We tend to move toward the negative, and I don’t know why that is,” Martin said. “Negative things are going to happen. We’re dealing with human beings.”
Even when departments have 1 million or more citizen contacts each year, but just 104 citizen complaints, people tend to focus on the complaints, rather than the good a department does, Martin said.
Part of that could stem from how departments handle those complaints. When internal investigations are conducted involving officer use of force, the results are not typically shared with the public. It’s something local critics say reinforces a culture of poor behavior, and they’ve called on independent citizen review boards to be established.
But that’s a process fraught with complications, according to Martin, who said he’s looked at models of the citizen review board across the country, but hasn’t found one that would work in Bakersfield.
“I’m not completely against it, but I’m going to have to see a model that appears to be objective and not politically or personally driven. It has to be about creating a better police department,” Martin said.
He’s focusing on getting his department to work on his "vision of problem-solving with a customer service emphasis,” Martin said. It includes de-escalation training and stresses how to interact with the community.
“We’re trying to get away from law enforcement. We do that, but that’s just 2 or 3 percent of the time. The rest is public safety, customer service and problem-solving,” Martin said.
“We need to focus our energies on those types of things. If we do, maybe some of these trust issues will subside a little.”