BPD in the midst of evolving national conversation about policing

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BPD – Bakersfield Police Department

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — How does President Trump’s recently issued executive order on police reform, issued this week, impact the Bakersfield Police Department? Greg Terry, promoted to police chief just three months ago, took a few minutes this week to talk about the president’s order and — more generally — law enforcement’s evolution over the past few weeks.

Terry knew he was signing up for a demanding, high profile job when he officially took the reins in April, but he couldn’t have foreseen this: Protests denouncing police violence against African Americans have roiled the streets across the country for almost three weeks now, Bakersfield included. The demand for change finally prompted Trump to address the groundswell, and this week he acted, issuing an executive order.

Trump’s order bans choke holds except when the officer’s life is in imminent danger, authorizes information sharing among departments to track complaints against individual officers, and establishes a federal grant program to help departments hire non-police to help manage issues like mental health, homelessness, and addiction.

Terry heartily endorses each of those points — and in fact says choke holds are already barred at BPD. And he had this to say about mental health issues on the street.

“There are some tragic stories in our streets,” Terry said. “There are individuals suffering from mental illness, addiction, that have caused their homelessness. And so we have a lot of suffering on our streets. … Oftentimes the police are the only one to call when there’s an issue. We are not always prepared, or the best, prepared to deal with that issue. So I would certainly support any efforts to look at a differential type of response so that we can respond to those individuals who are suffering on our streets, or in some form of crises, that don’t involve crime or some other broader public safety issue.”

The president’s order gives the weigh of authority to changes that were already underway. And the events of the past month have only underscored the need for evolution, Terry said.

“It is an unusual time and a challenging time for many different reasons,” Terry said. “We are still in the midst of a global pandemic. We’re dealing with the outrageous and horrific event that occurred in Minnesota. And so there are significant public safety challenges. We’ve had six homicides in the last four weeks in our community. So, there’s been a lot of attention directed to police reform and I think it’s appropriate. And there are good reason to have those conversations.”

The Terry Doctrine is getting buy-in, too. Sgt. Matt Gregory, a tactical supervisor with the BPD’s SWAT, says that — though they’re prepped for any eventuality in the street, with a full arsenal of persuasive tactics, including non-lethal weapons — they grasp their greater responsibility: the U.S. Constitution.

“We all took an oath to protect the Constitution, and we want people to give to have their First Amendment rights,” Gregory said. “We want people to protest, whatever the case may be, whatever the situation is you’re protesting. We want you to do that, and I think that gets kind of lost in the conversation. Even if it’s something that I don’t agree with. Because I’ve taken an oath to do that.”

There’s an art to police work and there’s a science to police work. Both, as we’ve come to see in recent weeks, are evolving.

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