The Bakersfield Police Department reached a consensus that change needs to happen in the department on Tuesday during a community Zoom meeting convened by Arleana Waller, founder of the MLK commUNITY Initiative.
Some of the panel members, who participated via Zoom because of COVID-19 concerns, were BPD Chief Greg Terry, Assistant Chief Joe Mullins, Mayor Karen Goh, many local African-American leaders, BPD representatives, statewide elected officials and more. Nearly 300 people attended the meeting and could submit questions; however, only the panel was able to speak as the remaining microphones were muted.
The meeting was called in response to the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police and the subsequent protests and riots that have unfolded across the nation. Terry responded to Floyd’s death on Friday, calling it “horrific” and saying he ensured it would be made clear to all BPD officers that those actions were unacceptable.
“My heart was warmed as I saw my officers had the same (visceral) reaction that I did (when they watched the video of Floyd’s killing),” Terry said.
Terry and Mullins both acknowledged that the BPD has problems but did not know what the appropriate solutions were. Both turned to the panelists to offer their thoughts and experiences.
“Policing hasn’t done enough,” Terry said. “For far too long, the police have decided what the community needs. Officers need to know that you’re not being deployed into our neighborhoods, you’re a part of our neighborhoods and community.”
Patrick Jackson, president of the NAACP Bakersfield branch, suggested implementing an external community police oversight committee. However, the state’s current peace officer rights do not allow something like that to be in place and the BPD only has a confidential internal review committee.
Both Terry and Mullins were in full support of a change in the current peace officer rights.
“I 100 percent support honesty, openness and transparency,” Mullins said. “It is unfortunate that law makes it look like we’re hiding behind it. Nobody can police themselves perfectly.”
State legislation was passed that requires police departments to keep track of all stops officers make and report the demographics of each stop and use of force, including racial breakdown, according to Terry. Despite the BPD not being required by state law to begin doing so until January 2021, Terry said the department has already voluntarily begun tracking the stops and uses of force.
Terry also said: “We’re not doing everything we can do (to remain accountable). When we see a pattern (of an officer’s bad behavior), we’re putting things in place to have accountability.”
Some of the panelists asked whether BPD applicants are given an “implicit access test,” which can determine a person’s biases. Terry said there currently is no such test in place.
Keith Wolaridge, a panelist and a trustee at the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District, said he does not feel safe in Bakersfield. He said he was concerned about his interactions with law enforcement based on his race and the fact he looks like George Floyd.
“I love Bakersfield, but I know Bakersfield can do better,” Wolaridge said.
Waller expressed her love for Bakersfield, but said she has not felt that love reciprocated.
“I have worked with detectives on many of the threats I have received locally. The system did not protect me until I was almost harmed or dead,” said Waller.
Waller was very appreciative of Terry for taking initiative during the community meeting.
"I will roll up my sleeves and work with Chief Terry," Waller said. "I have not seen this kind of leadership before this."