Probe launched into 'deadliest' US police departments

Authorities in California on Thursday launched an investigation into two police agencies in the state described as the deadliest in the country.

Attorney General Kamala Harris said the probe into the Kern County Sheriff's Office and the Bakersfield Police Department will examine allegations of excessive use of force and other serious misconduct by both agencies.

"These investigations will objectively, impartially, and thoroughly examine whether the Kern County Sheriff's Office or the Bakersfield Police Department engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force or other civil rights violations," Harris said in a statement.

"We look forward to working collaboratively with the sheriff's office and the police department, as well as with the community, to address any civil rights violations or other issues that we may find during these investigations."

According to media reports, a series of complaints and community groups, people were killed by officers in both agencies at a higher rate in 2015 than in any other county in America.

The Guardian newspaper, which wrote a series of reports on both agencies, said 14 people were killed in 2015 by law enforcement in Kern County, which has a population of just under 875,000. That is opposed to 10 people killed by officers in the five boroughs of New York City, which has a population almost 10 times bigger and has about 23 times as many law enforcement officers, the paper said.

The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the probe, which will be conducted by California's Department of Justice, saying it marked "an important first step toward much-needed improvements in accountability and use of force in Kern County."

"More people die in police custody there per capita than any other county in the nation, and both the Kern County Sheriff's Office and the Bakersfield Police Department have unenviable records of high profile use of force incidents that often result in fatalities," the group said in a statement.

Authorities said the number of fatalities went down in 2016, but earlier this month a 73-year-old unarmed man with dementia was shot dead by a Bakersfield police officer, prompting complaints.

Both police agencies indicated on Thursday that they planned to cooperate with the probe.

"We will be cooperating with the investigation fully," said Ray Pruitt, spokesman for the Kern County Sheriff's Office.

Bakersfield Police Chief Lyle Martin, who took up his post earlier this month, had no comment, his spokesman said.

"He will provide a statement after he meets with the Department of Justice in January," Detective John Ramirez told AFP.