The town of Bakersfield, California, is one of the deadliest in the nation – threatened by those who are sworn to protect it.
The city made national headlines in November 2014 when 200 people gathered on the streets to protest the death of James De La Rosa. The unarmed 22-year-old was tasered and shot multiple times by four police officers, creating a shockwave of outrage across the nation. But for locals, the news was sad – yet unsurprising.
According to an analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union, using data from 2008 to 2014, Kern County (home of Bakersfield) experiences more police killings per capita than any other city in California. This story was much more than met the eye, as more recent reports have found that Bakersfield has more police killings than any other area in the entire nation.
Journalists at The Guardian first broke the story when they found that 13 people died at the hands of police in Kern County, home to just 875,000 people, in the first few months of 2015. In comparison, nine people died in all five counties of the NYPD’s jurisdiction, where the population is 10 times higher and there are 23 times more law enforcement officers at work.
A County Plagued by Violence
Officials posit this trend may be due, at least in part, to the fact that Bakersfield is a high-crime area that is plagued by gang-violence, drug-addiction, and epidemic levels of poverty. The city’s homicide rate is 75% higher than the national average and robbery rates are nearly double. Burglary rates are more than double the national average, and the rate of car theft is 300% higher than the national average. Violent crimes, such as those involving a firearm, occurred at a rate roughly equal to one a day in 2014.
These facts don’t provide justification for the 54 police killings over the past decade in Bakersfield, however. Most of these killings were ruled as justified by internal review – judgments made by the same departments that employ the officers who fired the shots.
Shocking History of Misconduct
Eyewitness accounts of police behavior during and following police shootings point to gross misconduct and unethical behavior. Following the shooting of De La Rosa, a police officer was observed wiggling the corpse, which was resting on a hospital gurney. The police officer then said, “I love playing with dead bodies.”
Another police officer on the force killed three people within a three-month span in 2010, including an unarmed 15-year-old boy. Another officer had been involved in four fatal shootings between 2013 and 2015, including De La Rosa’s. None of the deceased were carrying lethal firearms when they were shot: two were unarmed, one was carrying a BB gun, and one was carrying a tire iron. In one killing, an officer opened fire on his own confidential informant during a planned operation when one of the criminals whom the informant was helping the police apprehend pulled out a gun.
A Lack of Departmental Oversight
Perhaps most astonishing is the lack of punishment and oversight for these officers. All were cleared by internal review, and the department itself has not been subject to external scrutiny. These killings and trends are a matter of public record, so why haven’t state and federal officials intervened to investigate foul play within the department? This is, in part, what is driving protests across the country. It represents a failure of not only the department itself, but the system as a whole, which allows unarmed men and women to be shot on the streets by those who have sworn to protect them.
None of these issues are easy to solve, but at the very least, they merit further investigation.
For victims and the families of police shooting victims in Bakersfield, there is another way to get justice. The police misconduct lawyers at Rodriguez & Associates handle police shooting cases and will fight to get you and your family compensation and hold the police department accountable for their actions.