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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -
The crime rate in the city of Bakersfield is on the rise and the Bakersfield Police department is short on officers.
23 ABC found out several dozen officer positions are vacant because experienced officers are leaving the department and a group of rookies are taking their place.
BPD chief Greg Williamson said the department is behind in hiring officers because of a bad economy, officers leaving the department, and a slow process of hiring new officers and getting them out on the street.
The city council and the BPD are working together to get more manpower on the streets before the crime rate continues to climb.
"Right now, we have approximately 50 spots that are not filled out on the streets which is huge," said Williamson.
That's just part of the reason why it's taking the BPD so long to get to your house when you call to report a crime.
Williamson says his department is facing a problem that was created by factors outside of their control.
He said the city is growing, prison realignment has created more crime, and on top of that his officers are leaving the department.
"We have several officers who have lateraled to other departments their reasons vary," said Williamson.
He said some officers are retiring, others leave for health reasons, and experienced officers leave Bakersfield for more attractive areas.
"I'm a little bit concerned because our crime rate has gone up 18% in direct correlation with AB 109," said Councilman Russell Johnson.
Johnson said the city council has enough money in the budget to hire 10 more officers, but he said that’s not enough and recommends the city budget for 20 officers.
"There's not enough police out there to deal with the crime rate that we have,” said Johnson.
The BPD and the city council are in the middle of budget talks so we don't know how many more officers the department will get.
We do know that a new academy of 26 officers is getting ready to graduate in June and fill some of the current vacant positions.
"We're looking forward to getting those officers onto the streets,” said Williamson. He also said that those officers won’t be out on the street solo until December of this year.
Williamson said between now and then he will lose another group of experienced officers.
So, will crime in Bakersfield get worse before it gets better?
Chief Williamson said they are doing everything they can right now to handle the volume of calls to the best of their ability.
Another academy is slated to be filled to capacity in January of next year that Williamson hopes will produce two dozen more officers.