As a retired Bakersfield police officer, I have witnessed firsthand the importance of having a reliable and efficient public safety radio system. In emergency situations, quick and effective communication is vital to ensuring the safety of both first responders and the public. The county of Kern and city of Bakersfield are pursuing one of the largest contracts in their history — well in excess of $100 million. And this should not be done in the dark of night.
I fully appreciate the importance of public safety communications, but even the most urgent public safety needs must be procured in a transparent and ethical manner, and that is why I am deeply concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability with the current contracting process by county and city staff overseeing the procurement of a new public safety radio system.
There has been a complete lack of transparency in the processing of public safety radio contracting in our county and city administration. Inquiries regarding this current contracting and the allocation of taxpayer funds have been dismissed or received deeply concerning responses.
In my years as a police officer, public safety radios were a critical resource in effective communication on the job, but for the county and city to show bias in procuring, at the expense of taxpaying citizens, is poor management. Purchase orders totaling more than $1.8 million have already been made by the city — at significantly higher prices than similar competitors for public safety radios.
Taxpayers expect their hard-earned dollars to be used wisely for their intended purpose, but this has not been the case throughout this process. Lack of transparency from the city and the county is jeopardizing this essential public safety infrastructure. I urge Kern County and the city of Bakersfield to consider that taxpayers are the ones funding the project and greater transparency and accountability is necessary.
This vital system of public safety deserves fair and just contracting to ensure the best quality of radio communication is provided while funds are optimally allocated. Keeping citizens in the dark when it comes to how their money is spent is unacceptable. This contracting process should be ultimately open to public input and oversight to ensure funds are utilized efficiently and cost-effectively.
This project should be awarded to the company proposing the most economically sound budget and the best technology for our public safety officers. Favoritism and bias in the contract process where other bidders are left unaware of secret negotiations are a disservice to both our officers and the taxpaying public. Despite prior public and formal protests by mobile radio providers and local business owners, the lack of transparency and accountability in this process has been dismissed by the city and county.
I do commend this goal of the request for proposals, since a shared public safety radio system between the city and county is crucial to the security and safety of our residents and first responders; however, the procurement process is faulty. Taxpayers approved sales tax increases but are now being blindsided by this preferential contracting and potential misappropriation of taxpayer dollars. I’m concerned that the integrity of this process might be compromised.
The county and city need to reevaluate contracting processes with transparency and open communication — after all, taxpayer dollars are paying for a public radio system that is supposed to last for at least the next 15 years. The city and county need to keep their citizens’ safety at the forefront of their decisions with fairness in their procurement process while enforcing clear guidelines and standards.
It’s pretty simple — transparency and accountability is owed to taxpayers who deserve to know how their money is being used and that it is being used wisely. I implore our elected officials and those responsible for the contracting process to restore transparency in our county and city’s contract procurement process as the current process is hopelessly flawed, shows a disregard for taxpayers, while also putting essential public safety needs at risk.
Lorenzo Alvarez is a retired Bakersfield Police Department officer who served from 1980 to 1995.