Newly released crime statistics for the city of Bakersfield show a sizeable increase in several crimes including rape, auto theft and robbery over the last year.
The overall crime rate for 2012 was 556 reported crimes per 10,000 people, compared to 475 crimes per 10,000 people for 2011, according to information Bakersfield police released Monday.
There were 34 homicides in 2012, 15 of which were gang-related, which police said marks an 88.9 percent increase from 2011. Another violent crime, aggravated assaults, numbered 1,141, a 9.5 percent decrease from the year before.
But each of the following crime categories saw an increase in 2012: rape, 43.6 percent; larceny, 17.4 percent; auto theft, 35.7 percent; robbery, 23.4 percent; and burglary, 15.6 percent.
Police Chief Greg Williamson said the jump in the overall crime rate was due to a large increase in property crimes. There were about 3,000 more property crimes in 2012 than in 2011, compared to several dozen more violent crimes such as homicides and rapes during the same period.
“That’s what’s driven the crime rate up,” the chief said of property crimes.
And, as has been said by many in law enforcement, the chief said that the increase is in part due to AB 109, which sentenced inmates convicted of non-violent, non-serious and non-sexual crimes to county supervision rather than state prison upon their release. Some of these people are committing crimes.
Then there are offenders who receive a three-year sentence for felony crimes but generally serve less than that and end up in county jail, Williamson said. The jail is full of serious, violent offenders who have to be classified as such by Kern County sheriff’s officials who then face ongoing difficult decisions about who they can release and who to keep in custody.
The chief said that, in general, it’s drug addicts who break into cars and homes, often to steal items to feed their habit. Police have made a lot of arrests, but a lot of these offenders are in jail for only a few days before they’re released again.
Williamson said officers need the community’s support to help battle this problem.
“We want the community to continue to be involved,” he said. “Without their involvement we can’t be effective.”
Art Powell, past president of the local NAACP, said he’s noticed the increased crime and plans to bring it up at this week’s meeting of the Bakersfield Police Department’s Community Liaison Committee. Lack of jobs and opportunity for young people probably play a role in the spike, he said.
Some have criminal records and feel like they’re unemployable so they stick with a life of crime, Powell said. He said some of the blame also has to be put on parents for not making sure their children receive the education they need to hold down a job and make a decent living.
“I think they lack the proper training and opportunity to do something other than selling drugs or joining a gang,” Powell said.
Sean Battle, executive director of Stop the Violence, said there are likely many reasons for the crime surge, but some of it is probably due to a lack of hope in people who are living in poverty. He said part of it could also be that more people are comfortable about coming forward and reporting crime.
Battle said he’s concerned about all crime, but especially the homicide rate as “there’s no way to misreport that.” He said prayer and community collaboration are needed to help reduce these numbers.
“I believe we’ll work hard to find the root of the problem,” Battle said. “We’ll work harder to make our community a safer place.”
While there was a surge in homicides last year, 2011 was marked by a steep drop in that category compared to recent years. The 18 homicides of 2011 were the lowest the city had experienced since 2007, when there were 15.
Police have said those 15 killings marked a 20-year low and it was an anomaly.