Recent news coverage regarding a littering incident reported by a Bakersfield resident has brought attention to the Bakersfield Police Department and reported indifference to the littering problem in the city. There are several factors which lead to "non-response" to these types of incidents by Bakersfield police officers.
Reports of littering are low priority report calls. They rate below the hundreds of in-progress violent and serious offense calls the communications center receives and dispatches each day. Littering, in the State of California and the City of Bakersfield, is considered a misdemeanor or infraction.
According to case law, violators of misdemeanor crimes may only be arrested if the violation occurs in their presence, with a few exceptions. The arrest must be made in a public place, once again with a few exceptions. The exceptions allowed by case law do not include littering. The arrest must also be executed with a reasonable amount of time after observing the offense. Officers may accept civilian arrests of individuals for misdemeanors, although the same rules stated above apply.
While littering reports are not listed as high priority, officers who observe littering offenses are expected to take enforcement action if they are not addressing or en route to higher priority incidents. The Bakersfield Police Department has, at the request of Mayor Harvey Hall, conducted several traffic enforcement periods to address uncovered loads on the freeways that run through our city.
An increase in Part 1 crime of approximately 18% has additionally taken officers away from dealing what are generally considered quality of life crimes, including litter enforcement periods. Part 1 crimes include homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assaults, burglary, larceny, auto theft. (We are required to submit these statistics to the Department of Justice annually.)
Demands for police service continue to develop in all areas of the city to address various community issues. The Bakersfield Police Department tries to address these issues with a balanced approach.
One news report briefly describes the work by Chief William Bratton in numerous large cities throughout the United States. This work is a result of James Q. Wilson's theory on Community Policing and the Broken Windows Theory. Both theories involve instilling pride in neighborhoods and communities by taking care of the "small things" before the erosion or demise of areas within the city.
The heart of this theory involves determining the root causes of crime and developing appropriate mechanisms to address quality of life issues. An example of the Broken Windows Theory is the City of Bakersfield graffiti program. When community members report graffiti and it is removed within 24 hours, neighborhoods generally stabilize or realize a steady improvement in the quality of life because the graffiti vandals do not return. I believe the same theory could be applied to litter.
While enforcement should be a component of a an anti-litter campaign it is incumbent upon communities and neighborhood residents to have enough pride in the places they work and live to assist in removing the litter before it impacts the overall quality of these areas. I know I do this on at least a weekly basis.
The Bakersfield Police Department has worked with the Keep Bakersfield Beautiful Committee and Mayor Hall to assist in improving our quality of life using a balanced approach to all other crime issues and additional community concerns. The incident recently reported has left residents of the city with the belief the police department is above the litter program, which I believe is an unfair depiction of our efforts. The Department may have failed, in this incident, to satisfactorily address this citizen's concerns but I stand by the fact we remain committed to providing professional service in our enforcement of quality of life crimes.
The Department will work to improve its acceptance of reports in these and other incidents through its current on-line reporting system and exploring the use of additional technology to ensure these complaints are received and appropriately investigated.
Greg Williamson is chief of the Bakersfield Police Department. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.