KCSO & BPD report increases in complaints and uses of force for 2023

July 10, 2024 /

Kern County’s two largest law enforcement agencies reported an increase in complaints alleging everything from excessive force, neglect of duty, performance violations, discourteous treatment, and others. Both agencies are obligated to report such information to the California Department of Justice (DOJ) as part of a stipulated judgment. 


In 2023, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office received a total of 512 complaints, compared to 353 filed in 2022 for a 45% increase. The majority of complaints filed in 2023, 392, were from members of the public while the remaining 120 were initiated within the Sherrif’s Office. The highest number of complaints from the public, 140, were for “neglect of duty.” This was followed by rude conduct (75), excessive force (29), and discrimination (16). The report states the majority of the complaints, 199 were found to be unfounded, which means an investigation proved the act, or acts, allegedly did not occur. This finding drew skepticism. 

“Incredible! Based on what they’re saying, is everybody filing frivolous lawsuits against them?” said Dr. Tommy Tunson, retired Chief of Police and CEO of Tunson Executive Consulting for law enforcement agencies. 

Further, 27 complaints were sustained, meaning the action alleged did occur and the offending party may face disciplinary action. Fifteen were exonerated, meaning the allegation occurred, but the investigation revealed that it was justified, lawful, and proper. Fifty-two complaints were not sustained meaning the investigation failed to disclose sufficient evidence to clearly prove or disprove the allegation; and 99 others are still pending, meaning no finding has yet been made. 

Tunson said that to get a true picture of whether a complaint has merit is based on how an agency analyzes the data. The retired police chief also questioned what is meant by “neglect of duty,” which appears to be a general category. Department-initiated complaints are those filed by a member of the Sheriff’s Office. Of the 120 complaints filed in 2023, 51 of those were for violation of KCSO driving policy, followed by neglect of duty, and five for driving under the influence. 


KCSO officer-involved shootings in 2023 dropped to its lowest level in three years with two reported cases, compared to five in 2022. The department had 14 OIS in 2020. Bakersfield police had seven officer-involved shootings, three were fatal. 

Both KCSO and BPD came under national scrutiny for having a high number of per capita officer-involved shootings in the past. Between 2005 and 2015, Kern County had the highest rate of civilians killed by police of any county in the country. Police killed 79 people in Kern

County, a rate of 0.9 killings per 100,000 residents. That led to an investigation by the Department of Justice of both agencies for allegedly violating residents’ civil rights. DOJ concluded both agencies had violated residents’ civil rights and in 2020 and 2021, 

KCSO and BPD entered into a stipulated judgment with DOJ. Both agencies denied any legal wrongdoing but agreed to several reforms within the stipulated judgment. 

“These annual reports are required under the stipulated judgment to ensure that (both agencies) are transparent and accountable to the community,” said Rosa Lopez, senior police advocate with ACLU of Southern California in Bakersfield. 

So why the dramatic decline in officer-involved shootings in the last ten years in Kern County? Tunson partly attributes the decline in officer-involved shootings to what is known in law enforcement circles as “the Ferguson effect,”—officers are reluctant to proactively policing to avoid the appearance of civil liability. 


The Bakersfield Police Department also saw an increase in complaints filed, 188 in 2023 compared to 145 in 2022, a 30% difference. BPD chief Greg Terry noted however, that despite the one-year increase, this represents an increase of just 8% from 2019, after a major decline attributed to the pandemic. The majority came from the public, 138 or 73%, while 50 complaints, 27% were from within the department. 

BPD initiated 188 investigations into officer misconduct. Topping the list were complaints alleging “performance violations,” (32%), followed by discourteous treatment (14%), and careless workmanship (9%). The report did not specify what is meant by performance violations. And like KCSO, the BPD report states that more than half of the complaints filed for misconduct, 65%, were found to be unfounded, while 23% were sustained and 11% were not sustained. No cases of exonerations were reported. Of the complaints that were substantiated, 70% resulted in disciplinary action. The three most common disciplinary outcomes were a written reprimand, (49%), suspension (21%), and termination (13%).


BPD reports 562 incidents of use of force in 2023. A reportable use of force is defined as any force used to gain compliance that results in death, visible injury, complaint of injury, or complaint of pain that persists beyond momentary discomfort, or any restraint in addition to handcuffing and any force involving the use of personal body weapons, chemical agents, impact weapons, conducted energy weapons (TASERs), canines, vehicle interventions, or firearms. While use of force went up by 11% from 2022, the report shows that overall, use of force was still less than 6% of BPD’s total in five years, since 2019. Of the 562 use-of-force incidents reported, seven cases, or 1.2% resulted in deadly force. 

According to BPD chief Greg Terry, uses of force remain rare, making up one-fifth of 1% of all BPD’s interactions last year. And while the use of force may be necessary under circumstances, the report states officers must first use de-escalation and crisis-intervention tactics to elicit voluntary compliance. Those most impacted by use of force were Hispanics (51%), Blacks (24%), and whites (23%). Per the report, one BPD officer was involved in 19 incidents of use of force, the highest reported in the department. Calls made to BPD for comment on whether the officer violated any rules were not immediately returned. 

“The use of force data is concerning and demonstrates that there’s still a lot of work to do to ensure that BPD safeguards the rights of our communities by employing less force to resolve incidents and prioritizing de-escalation tactics,” said Lopez with the ACLU. 


Watchdog groups such as the ACLU and others keep tabs on these reports to track police performance. According to Lopez, the data shows much remains to be done to mend law enforcement’s relationship with the community it serves, adding she hopes the data informs continued policy and training needs for officers. Police consultant Tunson is also optimistic the data released every year will lead to better officer training not just at the academies, but for veteran officers as well. 

“Generally, police are doing a better job today of protecting the public, but yes, we still have a ways to go,” said Tunson. 

To read the KCSO 2023 Annual Report Complaint Statistics, go here: 

https://www.kernsheriff.org/document-library/20240619094500_2023-Internal-Affairs-Annual-Re port.pdf 

To read the BPD reports, go here: 


And here: 


Tags: , ,