Bakersfield Police Department’s Struggle with Sworn-Officer Vacancies

Maintaining full staffing levels for law enforcement agencies in Bakersfield and Kern County has been a persistent challenge, but there are promising developments on the horizon.

Recruitment and retention have posed significant issues for the Kern County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO). High vacancy and turnover rates have not only affected morale but have also necessitated substantial overtime to meet staffing requirements. To bridge the gaps, the department had to deploy deputies to staff its downtown jail.

KCSO spokesperson Lori Meza acknowledged that working in understaffed conditions can be disheartening for officers. However, there are positive signs in 2023. Despite experiencing considerable attrition this year, KCSO has successfully onboarded 14 sworn officers, marking a near-record achievement in recent years.

Last month, the agency celebrated the addition of 12 lateral transfers, referring to sworn personnel from other jurisdictions who chose to join KCSO. According to Sgt. Charles Shinn from the KCSO Background Investigations unit, approximately 30 applicants have expressed interest in joining the force in the past six months.

KCSO’s current staffing stands at 78% capacity, with 1,130 positions filled out of the authorized 1,444. The majority of vacancies are within the ranks of sworn officers, where there were 124 openings as of August 25.

Meza credited this recent improvement to a combination of factors, including hiring events, a substantial 22% pay raise, longevity pay, and a recently approved $25,000 hiring bonus by the county Board of Supervisors. Additionally, lesser-known incentives such as relocation stipends and housing allowances for eligible officers have helped KCSO compete with larger, better-funded law enforcement agencies.

Following the pay increase, detention deputies can anticipate monthly earnings ranging from $5,479 to $6,548, depending on rank and facility. This raise has propelled KCSO from being one of the lowest-paid agencies in the state to one of the highest.

Meanwhile, at the city level, the Bakersfield Police Department is grappling with 30 vacant sworn-officer positions. According to department spokesperson Andrew Tipton, building a competent police force involves creating a welcoming atmosphere for officers. Many Bakersfield officers have deep roots in the community, being born and raised in the area, which fosters a unique commitment to the community.

Tipton, much like Meza, attributes BPD’s net gain of 70 sworn officers since 2018 to monthly hiring events and the passage of Measure N, a funding initiative that prioritizes public safety. The city also offers a $4,500 signing bonus, operates its own police academy, and provides financial support to trainees.

Regarding what draws people to Kern County, Meza emphasized the region’s relative affordability as a significant factor. However, she also highlighted the distinctive cultural values that are prevalent within Kern’s borders.

“In Kern County, we can proudly say that you don’t have to leave California; you can come to Kern,” Meza explained. “Our values here in Kern County are a bit different from the rest of California.”

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