California authorities will investigate two state law enforcement agencies labelled deadliest in the country
California Attorney General and US Senator-elect Kamala Harris announced on Thursday that state authorities will investigate the two deadliest law enforcement agencies in the nation, following a series of complaints alleging “use of excessive force and other serious misconduct,” and revealing reports by The Guardian into both agencies’ practices. The Bakersfield police department and Kern County sheriff’s office killed people at higher rates than departments in any other county in the nation last year, in 2015, and The Guardian criticized both for maintaining a “culture of violence, corruption and impunity.”
“Excessive use of force and police misconduct erode and undermine the public’s trust in our law enforcement agencies. These investigations will objectively, impartially and thoroughly examine whether the Kern County sheriff’s office or the Bakersfield police department engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force or other civil rights violations,” Harris said in a statement on the impending investigations.
In the year 2015 alone, 14 people were killed by law enforcement in Kern County, a jurisdiction that The Guardian notes has a population of just under 875,000. Meanwhile, in 2015, 10 people were killed by the New York police department in the five counties of New York City, which has a population nearly 10 times the size of Kern County. Meanwhile, the Bakersfield police department received widespread criticism after one officer shot and killed an unarmed 73-year-old man with dementia earlier this month, an incident which the department has requested the FBI investigate.
In recent years, nation-wide consciousness of police brutality has mounted dramatically, with force often unnecessarily, and too often fatally, used before other deescalation methods in conflicts with civilians who are often unarmed and posing minimal threat. Many reports have indicated that civilians subjected to police brutality are far more likely to be people of color, although whether racial discrimination is also a problem among law enforcement in Bakersfield and Kern County is to be seen.
However, at least in Kern County, one reason use of excessive force by law enforcement is able to continue unabated is that, according to one Guardian report, “the vast majority of investigators at the district attorney’s office were former police officers with the departments they were tasked to investigate.”
As yet another example of the Kern County sheriff’s office covering up misconduct, The Guardian reported on how it made cash payments, some as low as $200, to the numerous women who had allegedly been sexually assaulted by sheriff’s deputies who continue to walk free, to silence and convince them not to sue to the department.
“These investigations will objectively, impartially and thoroughly examine whether the Kern County sheriff’s office or the Bakersfield police department engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force or other civil rights violations,” Harris, who will be involved in the investigation, stated.