BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — It’s officially the new year which means there’s a clean slate when it comes to homicides in Bakersfield and Kern County. But 2021 was a particularly violent year with another increase when it comes to homicides locally. 23ABC spoke with both BPD and KCSO who said this is never a record they want to see for the community.
While homicides have increased from 2020 to 2021 for the Bakersfield Police Department the Kern County Sheriff’s Office said they have seen a decrease but they still said one of the problems is oftentimes people arrested are quickly back onto the streets.
“A lot of our homicides shouldn’t occur, because the suspect ought to be in custody, for the prior crimes that they’ve committed, and until we start holding people accountable, there is no answer to this homicide question,” said Sheriff Donny Youngblood of Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
In 2021 60 people died from a homicide in BPD’s jurisdiction and as of December 21st, there have been 137 homicides in the county as a whole and 48 belonging to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
Compared to 2020 Bpd reported 45 homicides and the California Department of Justice reported Kern County saw 116 homicides in 2020.
For BPD that’s an increase of 33%.
“The unfortunate reality is that we had an extremely violent 2021, this isn’t unique to Bakersfield, most of the major cities in the state of California have seen a similar increase,” said Sgt. Robert Pair with the Bakersfield Police Department.
Pair said whether it’s gang-related or not a homicide is a life lost.
“Ultimately, even if it is gang-related throw that out the window, somebody cares about that individual, and that individual's loss – they have every potential in the world – and that individual's loss can frequently lead to the loss of lives of people that have nothing to do with that,” said Pair.
When it comes to 2021 however Pair said gang-related violence was down, but domestic violence deaths were up.
The 2011 California assembly bill allowing for those convicted of less serious felonies to serve their time in county jail rather than a state prison drew lots of criticism.
“18 people have lost their lives over the past two years to people that were released and considered non-violent offenders under AB109, that was a preventable number and that’s 18 people that have lost their lives,” said Pair.
Youngblood also said the current laws do not help them hold people accountable.
“We do arrest them, but we have zero bail, almost everything is a misdemeanor, so they are cited out back into the streets. We can throw money and have a policeman on every corner, without current laws, we will still be in the same position that we’re in,” said Youngblood.
But Youngblood also believes there are several factors contributing to the homicides in kern county besides that bill.
“We went through a period where we had to lay people off and we don’t have a gang task force anymore and that is also part of the problem, so there’s a lot of issues and this isn’t any one person’s fault, it’s a combination of a lot of things,” said Youngblood.
Youngblood believes one way to help the problem is changing the laws and Pair said while COVID disrupted their violence intervention program, which is a partnership between BPD and community groups, the state recently provided funding for the program again.
“What the violence intervention program does is we attempt to insert services into that to give people opportunity to remove themselves from that cycle of violence because let’s be honest, ultimately there’s enough room for success and growth in this community and communities throughout this state that there’s no reason to be involved in this cycle of violence,” said Pair.
Pair said while police are extremely important in solving these issues there’s no unilateral approach there must be a buy-in from the community.