Even with several months still to go, with conviction I can say that 2020 has been a year of struggle. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our community, from business to home life, with some families carrying the heavier burden of loved ones lost. Wildfires have ravaged our state, displacing families, further impacting our air quality in the valley. National protests regarding police brutality have occurred throughout the country, including in our city, and brought certain critical issues about law enforcement and the community we serve to the forefront.
Police work is unlike any other service industry. In law enforcement the customer isn’t always right. We are rarely the “bearers of good news.” We show up on what may be the worst day of a person’s life. We may bring news of the loss of a child due to a senseless shooting, respond to an act of domestic violence that breaks a home, or bring notification to a worried family member that their loved one is not going to be coming home after a tragic accident. These events are frequently how we as law enforcement officers come into people’s lives.
As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “No man needs sympathy because he has to work, because he has a burden to carry. Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Compassion for our fellow humans is what makes this burden easier and makes the work worth doing.
During local protests regarding police brutality, I watched as officers were spit on, taunted and demeaned by a small group of agitators among a larger group of peaceful protestors. Professionalism allowed the officers to see beyond the hateful actions of a few and see the true hurt and anger of the larger whole.
As I reflect on my first few months as police chief for National First Responders Day, I recognize the amazing work of ALL of our first responders in law enforcement, fire services, emergency medical services, mental health and dispatch. I am humbled by their selfless service, courage and professionalism.
With the full deployment of body cameras throughout your Bakersfield Police Department, I have had the opportunity to get a first-hand look at our interactions with the public we serve. Without personal accountability we cannot grow nor can we ever improve. Accountability to the community led to the deployment of body worn cameras, the formation of the BPD - Community Collaborative and the work to create a culture of continuous improvement.
As police we look to the future, learn from the past and I pledge we will hold fast to our guiding values of compassion, professionalism and accountability to continue to partner with our community to protect the lives and property of the people we serve.
Greg Terry is chief of the Bakersfield Police Department.