Increasing money allocated to a police department that, by its own recent public admissions, is not meeting the needs of the community, is an insult to the hundreds of residents who have put their lives on the line to march for justice in our streets and an even starker insult to the memory of Robert Forbes and impacted community members. In Bakersfield Police Department Chief Terry’s own words, “Policing hasn’t done enough. For far too long, the police have decided what the community needs.”
We can no longer burden police officers with the social problems we have failed to meaningfully address. It is time to join the community’s call for a fundamental reimagining of public safety in Kern County. It’s time to address the root cause of police violence and redirect funds from BPD toward community-based public safety approaches that help communities thrive.
Relying on police to respond to our social problems costs Bakersfield taxpayers millions and does not further public safety. We have criminalized poverty, people of color and mental illness, exacerbating social problems and reducing public safety for all. This is confirmed in the research conducted by UCLA’s Bunche Center for African American Studies — A Million Dollar Hoods Report regarding Bakersfield’s police response to the unhoused.
Unhoused people are disproportionately arrested when compared to their housed counterparts. In 2017 alone, an unhoused person was arrested an average of 22 times, an astronomical number compared to only one arrest for every 25 housed people.
From 2003 to 2017, when arrests in our state as a whole declined 16.5 percent, arrests in Bakersfield increased 32 percent. Bakersfield arrests of the unhoused went from 9 percent to 32 percent of all arrests. Especially disheartening was the disproportionate arrest of not only African Americans, but the over-policing of impoverished unhoused caucasian residents in Oildale.
Furthermore, MDH reported that from January 2010 to December 2016, Kern County jails received 8,604 bookings of people who were later released after having their case dismissed. People spent an average of 36 days in jail on cases that were later dismissed. This cost the community more than $29.3 million. Compared to the $5,551 cost to feed, care for and shelter an individual for an entire year. The most common charges during this period were: possession of drugs/paraphernalia, failure to appear and driving on suspended license. These nonviolent offenses are closely associated with poverty and mental health.
Police with guns, who’ve shown propensity to use them too often, should not be sent to do social work, crisis intervention and mental health counseling, which accounts for approximately 21 percent of police calls. Instead we call on you to consider a model like Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS). In Eugene, Ore.: CAHOOTS responds to almost 20 percent of police calls with a budget of $2 million; the police department spends $68 million for the other 80 percent. Our taxes, including funds from Measure N, should be used to directly address poverty, homelessness and mental illness, without the added complication of criminalization.
We urge the reallocation of resources from BPD to programs that will actually address public safety. The council must immediately move forward to implement a program that provides the appropriate response to police calls, and not simply default to a police response. We recognize the many issues involved in implementing such a program, but we are confident it can be installed by 2021. The council should immediately consider expanding the work of the Bakersfield Homeless Collaborative, contracting for mental health services and funding substance abuse programs.
While we applaud partial implementation of certain policies, including the purchase of body cameras, these are only small steps toward a true reform of the current policing model. We also request you immediately adopt data-based public safety goals: ban chokeholds and strangleholds, require deescalation, require all alternatives be utilized prior to the use of deadly force, ban shooting at moving vehicles, have a use of force continuum and require comprehensive reporting. While designed to reduce harm in the short-term, these goals are important steps toward effective, safe and economic policing.
The Criminal Justice Reform Coalition includes Jesse Rodriguez, Kathleen Faulkner, Kia Villareal, Lori Pesante, Marvin G. Pettiford, Robin Walters, Rosa Lopez, Sara C. Pettiford and Ucedrah Osby.