Two months into the first full year of Measure N's 1 percent sales tax increase, the Bakersfield Police Department says noticeable improvements have begun to take place.
The department has held two academies, with the graduates of the first one already patrolling city streets and those in the second set to follow later this month. Counting retirements and other departures, the department has increased the number of sworn officers in its ranks by 25. BPD plans to hold two academies every year for the next few years, and expects to increase its force of sworn personnel from 407 to 507 by 2022, a key promise of the Measure N campaign.
“It is something that is definitely a work in process,” BPD Chief Greg Terry said of the department's Measure N improvements. “We’re just now into year two. It feels like Measure N was years ago, with everything else that we’ve been facing this year, but we are very early into our work.”
In addition to bringing sworn officers on board, the department is in the process of hiring 50 to 70 civilian employees. These new employees will allow more police officers to come out from behind a desk and be assigned other duties.
Already, the department has made good on another of the city’s promises related to Measure N, which is also known as the Public Safety and Vital Services Measure. With the creation of the telephonic report specialist position, BPD has been able to reassign police service technicians into a new burglary response unit.
The new unit provides an in-person response to burglary calls, where previously the public has been required to fill out a form online or through the phone.
“When someone comes into your home it is very personal and it creates a great deal of fear,” Terry said. “There’s just something that strikes each of us, that this is important, and why isn’t somebody coming out here to process for fingerprints?”
In an extensive interview with The Californian, Terry went over his goals for the department over the next few years. Measure N is expected to provide around $58 million in additional funding to the city annually, much of which will go to BPD.
Terry said the department’s main goal was reducing the time it takes for officers to respond to “priority one” calls. Currently, the department responds to the highest priority calls in less than seven minutes about 50 percent of the time.
“I find that too long,” Terry said. “The highest priority calls that we have are where people’s lives are at stake. And so, we certainly are focusing on that, and want to improve our response times to those calls. Because when people call us in those situations, they need us there immediately.”
Another important, albeit less flashy goal, is the quest to make the department more efficient. BPD has created a quality assurance unit meant to evaluate its long-term performance.
BPD has also had to contend with the coronavirus pandemic while working to meet the community’s expectations for Measure N. Terry said a few of the department’s employees had come down with COVID-19, but nothing close to the impact that had initially been feared.
"Fortunately the COVID team was really proactive in educating and developing protocols to assure that there were checks and balances," Terry said in reference to a unit designed to create best practices for BPD relating to coronavirus. He added that there had been virtually no reductions in service.
While much work remains to be done in adding a net 100 officers to the force, and the department has had to pivot to address a national reckoning with police tactics, Terry remained confident BPD would see long-term improvement from the Measure N funds. BPD has partnered with Cal State Bakersfield to analyze the various police reform measures that have been proposed and consider which ones could be implemented. A community task force has also been formed.
Over the next few years, the community should be able to notice a difference in BPD, if not for the simple fact that more officers will be patrolling the streets.
“We’ve kind of looked across all of the department in finding different ways to meet the community’s expectation,” Terry said, “with the long-term goal of when you call us, we’re getting there as quickly as possible.”