December 28, 2020 - SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra last week announced a major settlement aimed at reforming a wide range of practices at the Kern County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO). The agreement comes after an extensive investigation by the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and constructive action by KCSO to begin the reform process that will benefit all Kern County residents. The proposed stipulated judgment lodged with the court today works to resolve DOJ's concerns, as alleged in its complaint. As a result of the agreement, the County of Kern and KCSO will engage in a comprehensive set of corrective actions — to be overseen by an independent monitor — to promote public safety, increase transparency and accountability, and enhance KCSO’s relationship with the community by ensuring all individuals are treated with dignity and respect.
“We’ve entered a new era for policing in America. Accountability and transparency are drivers of today’s reform and many in law enforcement in California are accepting the challenge,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Today’s settlement with the Sheriff’s Office is a critical step in helping rebuild trust and partnership in Kern County. It won’t happen overnight, and we’ll all have to stay on task. But, these are the steps our communities want to see us launch for safer neighborhoods. We look forward to working with Sheriff Youngblood and Kern County’s civic leaders to make today’s settlement a success.”
“I want to thank the Attorney General for his partnership with Kern County and especially thank my Sheriff for the spirit of cooperation and transparency that has guided this process," said Kern County Supervisor Chair Leticia Perez. "Our public safety partners and community members all desire to live in safe and healthy neighborhoods. My hope is that we all join this endeavor by building the future together, as one community.”
After a comprehensive investigation launched in December of 2016, the Attorney General’s Office worked with KCSO to address allegations of unlawful policing practices within the county, including with regards to the use of unreasonable force, unreasonable stops, searches, and seizures, and failure to exercise appropriate management and supervision of deputies both on patrol and in the county’s jails. The investigation also identified other violations, including failing to adequately maintain a meaningful program for the receipt and investigation of civilian complaints; failing to provide meaningful access to those with limited English proficiency; and failing to have a comprehensive community policing program. In conducting the investigation, the Attorney General's Office undertook on-the-ground investigative work, reviewed thousands of documents with the assistance of subject-matter experts, and directly engaged with community members and organizations.
To address these concerns and the investigation’s findings, DOJ and KCSO worked cooperatively to establish a five-year plan that provides for an extensive range of corrective actions, including to:
- Review and revise use-of-force policies and principles to, among other things, prohibit the use of maneuvers that create a substantial risk of positional asphyxia, emphasize that the use of force is not a routine part of policing, and make it an affirmative duty for deputies to intervene, when in a position to do so, against unnecessary or excessive force by another deputy;
- Modify canine-related policies and training, working to ensure canines are deployed in a manner consistent with “find and bark” rather than “find and bite” approaches and limiting off-leash canine deployments only to instances in which a suspect is wanted for a serious felony or is reasonably suspected to be armed based on individualized information;
- Strengthen use-of-force reporting, developing a policy and process to inform the public about all officer-involved shootings, deaths in custody, or other significant matters;
- Require supervisory investigations for all reportable uses of force, including requirements for supervisors to respond to the scene and document findings in a “Supervisor’s Report on Use of Force”;
- Improve use-of-force training, working with the independent monitor to incorporate training on, among other things, de-escalation techniques, principles of procedural justice, and how bias can impact threat assessments;
- Analyze use-of-force data, meeting with a community advisory panel to receive input into policies and procedures from community representatives from various, diverse stakeholder groups;
- Reiterate that investigatory stops or detentions may only occur where there is reasonable suspicion of a crime, requiring deputies during such encounters to state the reason for an investigatory stop or detention as soon as practicable;
- Require deputies be able to articulate a valid reason under law to conduct a consent search, securing supervisory approval before conducting any such searches of a home;
- Provide all dispatchers and their supervisors with crisis intervention training, as well as establishing a preference for deputies who are specifically trained in dealing with individuals in mental health crisis or suffering from a mental health disability to respond to such calls for assistance;
- Ensure timely and meaningful access to police services to all members of the Kern County community, including incarcerated individuals, regardless of their ability to speak, read, write, or understand English;
- Develop a written recruitment plan, including clear goals, objectives, and action steps for attracting and retaining a quality workforce that reflects the diversity of the Kern County community;
- Broaden efforts to actively participate in community engagement efforts, including participating in local community meetings and working with the community on the development of diversion programs;
- Conduct a biennial community survey, seeking, in part, to measure public satisfaction with policing, attitudes among personnel in the sheriff's office, and the quality of deputy-citizen encounters; and
- Establish a clear definition of what constitutes a civilian complaint, including non-traditional sources of complaints such as online video posts by community members depicting apparent deputy misconduct.
Attorney General Becerra is committed to improving public safety and the criminal justice system by advocating for reforms across the state and the nation, and working with local authorities to implement new policies. Earlier this month, the Attorney General argued against the imposition of unaffordable court user fees on indigent criminal defendants in California. Earlier this year, the Attorney General issued a report on the Sacramento Police Department’s policies and practices aimed at building public trust and ensuring safe, effective, and procedurally fair policing. He launched a review of the Vallejo Police Department that will result in the development of a comprehensive policing plan in an effort to modernize and reform the police department's policies and practices, and increase public trust. Attorney General Becerra also called for a wide range of statewide police reforms, encouraging leaders across the state to actively work toward achieving lasting, forward-thinking, and comprehensive reform. Last year, he secured an agreement with the Stockton Unified School District and its police department to address system-wide violations of the civil and constitutional rights of African American and Latino students, and students with disabilities. In 2018, as a result of the Trump Administration abandoning its role, the Attorney General stepped in at the request of the City of San Francisco and the San Francisco Police Department to provide independent oversight of the police department’s reform efforts.