Grand Jury: Raise sales tax to update KCSO software, fill vacant positions

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The Kern County Grand Jury says sheriff’s officials should recommend a 1 percent sales tax increase to pay for updated technology and computer software and fund vacant staff positions.

In a report released Wednesday, the grand jury said it investigated progress the sheriff’s office has made in complying with a 2020 agreement reached with the state Attorney General’s Office implementing a number of reforms at the agency.

Specifically, the agreement called for the sheriff’s office to take action “to promote public safety, increase transparency and accountability, and enhance KCSO’s relationship with the community by ensuring all individuals are treated with dignity and respect.” That includes revising use-of-force policies and practices and developing plans to increase diversity among staff.

By Nov. 1, the report says sheriff’s officials should recommend the Board of Supervisors increase the county sales tax from 7.25 to 8.25 percent, and should commission an independent study on the sheriff’s hiring program.

Qualified candidates are passed from Kern County Human Resources to the sheriff’s office, the report says, but there is no information on how the agency chooses new hires. Staffing does not represent the community’s diversity, with Black personnel representing 2.2 percent of the total workforce.

The Black population in Kern County is 6.6 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

The grand jury found hiring needs were impeded by a lack of communication between human resources and the sheriff’s office.

“Staffing levels are at an all-time low, and the KCSO is strained by a lack of qualified candidates to fill vacancies,” the report says. “Positions remain vacant placing a burden on the existing workforce.”

The report also noted the agency is in need of updated software, and its website must be overhauled to include publicly available data on use-of-force incidents.