The Bakersfield Police Department (BPD) is a great partner of Bakersfield College. They respond quickly to calls, and conduct professional development activities on our campus, for example, the active shooter series organized by Anthony Culpepper, Chief Counts and Amber Chiang.
To their credit, BPD understands the vital need to stay connected to everyone they serve in this community — so it was a great pleasure to host Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson and some of his officers at a community Citizen’s Forum October 15th, Thursday night.
About 100 of our northeast Bakersfield neighbors came out to join us for the eye-opening session. It was a wonderful dialogue between Williamson, his officers, and engaged community members who don’t always know how to best help protect their neighborhoods or interact with officers in the field.
On a practical level, Chief Williamson reported the department’s efforts to cut response times on Priority 1 calls are having a positive impact citywide, particularly in BC’s northeastern “Hill” zone. Average response time to a call is now about 5 minutes, 30 seconds citywide, down almost 31 percent from last year. In our Hill neighborhood, average response time is down even more, about a 33 percent improvement.
While Chief Williamson had positive news to share, the primary goal of BPD’s community meetings is to increase communication and understanding between residents and officers. Officers selected members of the audience to suit up in police gear and “respond” to typical police situations to better understand what officers face on a daily basis.
This was an instance of community involvement intersecting beautifully with education. Students in BC Professor Patricia Smith’s criminology courses joined in as new “officers” in role playing scenarios, asked to respond to police calls and interact with possible crime suspects in situations that can be either mundanely simple or, in some cases, frighteningly dangerous with little warning.
For example, BC student and criminal justice major Kenneth Mireles had to decide how to engage a man in a suit – played by a BPD detective – who may have been vandalizing a park bench with a knife. Mireles was on alert when the man was slow to show his ID, but didn’t pull his pepper spray to subdue the man until he unexpectedly lurched off the bench in the officer’s direction.
Many criminology students like Kenneth may actually become officers in the coming years, and these scenarios were both a valuable training opportunity as well as a powerful reminder of the danger and ambiguity patrol officers face every day.
Even with NFL football, playoff baseball, and an ugly night of weather vying for attention, it was one of the best-attended meetings in BPD’s current slate of community forums — and an event we’d all welcome and love to see again in the future.
A huge thanks to Chief Williamson and his officers for coming, to Pat Smith and Mary Jo Pasek for facilitating and supporting the evening for BC and to all of our wonderful neighbors who joined us!