Q&A: BPD discusses tensions in Kern that arose during election year

December 4, 2020 /

The death of George Floyd, on May, 25th 2020 sparked action from the Black Lives Matter movement that was created in 2013. This became a nationwide movement with several protests against police brutality and calls to government officials to defund the police and engage in alternative emergency protocols. As the election neared, the nation has seen protesters of both sides engage in violence. Kern County has also seen similar occurrences circulating on different media platforms in the wake of these nationwide protests, specifically attacks against the Black Lives Movement. 

Kern Sol News spoke to Robert Pair, the Public Information Officer for the Bakersfield Police Department, to find if there has been a causal effect to violence due to the elections. 

Q: During the election, has there been an increase of alleged hate crime or altercations? 

A: There have been 8 hate crime investigations in 2020, compared to; 2019: 1; 2018: 6; 2017: 3; 2016: 9. At least one of those hate crime investigations in 2020 can be attributed to the election.

Q: Do you feel like there has been an increase in hate crime with the current political climate?

A: This is a broad question.  We have had large increases in all levels of violent crime in 2020, with the exception of rapes and robberies, as compared to 2019. This is not unique to Bakersfield and is something large metropolitan areas throughout the country are struggling with. Violent crime includes homicides, aggravated assaults, and batteries. I have no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, that this is attributed to the election year.

Q: What type of charges are there when people attack protestors or when an altercation occurs during rallies? 

A: This entirely depends on the facts of the incident in question and what you mean by “attack.” The penal code is very specific on the elements of specific criminal offenses. Law enforcement throughout the country has struggled with enforcing criminal law violations during incidents of mass civil disobedience. Ultimately, we are seen as doing too much enforcement by one side, and not enough enforcement by the other. This is a no-win situation.  We weigh the severity of the offense against the likelihood of our presence or attempt at enforcement significantly escalating the situation. For example, during the protests to the front of the department in May, we observed numerous incidents of vandalism to city property; however, if officers would have attempted to enter the crowd of protestors to make arrests for relatively minor law violations, there would have been an extremely high likelihood of physical violence that would necessitate officers using force, and thus escalate an already volatile situation. Instead, we noted criminal law violations, started investigations and ultimately made arrests at a later time.

During the protests, several incidents of physical assault, from various groups were reported; including “Patriots,” “BLM”, innocent bystanders and uninvolved motorists. Ultimately the response of officers was determined by the amount of resources available, (IE; small group of officers entering a crowd of over a hundred highly charges and emotional individuals), the severity of the assault (was it likely to result in serious bodily harm which would necessitate intervention regardless of the safety to officers and bystanders) and the ability to make enforcement action (are we able to identify the involved subjects as most individuals have been wearing Covid-19 related masks, is the victim still present, will the victim cooperate).

Q: Does BPD believe that the election results would cause an increase of violence? 

A: During this election cycle there were incidents of violence locally and across the country. However, we have great faith in our community’s ability to express and debate ideas in a civil manner and hope that is what we see. It would be naïve to believe that this election is not contentious with a potential for an escalation of violence.

Q: In rallies, many have felt that BPD has been hesitant to intervene between the BLM supporters and Trump supporter rallies. For example, in BPD’s statement regarding a bear mace incident, video shows that the police officers were informed who was sprayed and that they were offered the video. The Department said it was unable to determine who the victim was. Is there any comment to the events that unfolded that day. 

A: The video you are referring to is an open investigation which began that same night. I can assure we are conducting a complete and thorough investigation into that incident. I can say that incident is a snippet of something that we have been experiencing since May of 2020. We have responded to over 45 calls for service regarding protest activity, excluding the mass demonstrations in the downtown area. We have made arrests of both “Patriot” and “BLM” associated individuals. At this point, membership in both factions are not fans of the Bakersfield Police Department. We are committed to conducting objective and independent investigations into criminal activity regardless of who commits it. Perception of events does not equal facts. The investigation that is currently on-going was initiated by officers at the scene that same night.

Q: We saw another incident that was in national news between two local residents on Rosedale Highway. What came of that incident? 

I believe that you are referring to the incident of battery, involving the video with the dog. After an investigation, two arrests were made against “Patriot” associated subjects; one for battery, and one for possession of a firearm.