The current Kern County homicide rate is more than twice what it was at this time in 2019, according to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
As of Friday, KCSO has recorded 37 suspected homicides within their jurisdiction, significantly more than the 17 tallied at this time last year.
“It's very much a concern the rate of violent crime we’re seeing," Sheriff Donny Youngblood said. "It’s something that’s very concerning in this county.”
Youngblood said throughout his years in law enforcement, homicide rates tend to trend up and down with no “logical explanation.” However, he added there may be a number of factors contributing to 2020’s rate.
“We’ve established all of these (COVID-19) protocols and it’s a perfect storm for this type of behavior,” Youngblood said. “People are either not staying home or are just defying the governor’s orders. With the more you try to contain people, the more restless they become.”
Youngblood said the actual homicide numbers aren’t what concerns him most; it’s the number of violent crimes intended to kill someone, regardless of their outcome.
“Homicide numbers are really misleading. How many shootings have there been in the same period?” Youngblood posed. “The intent to kill someone is so much higher and that is the real number.”
Through June, KCSO saw increases of various “level one” crimes when compared to 2019. Some of the increases include: rape, which totaled at 29, 22 more than last year; assault, which totaled at 452, an increase of 80; and auto theft, which totaled at 185, 24 more than last June.
Nationwide there have been reported increases in violent crime in cities such as Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia, according to the Associated Press. In Atlanta, 31 people were shot the weekend of July 10-12, five fatally, compared with seven shootings and one killed during the same week in 2019.
In addition to the rising homicide rate, other “level one” crimes locally are trending up including burglary and auto theft, according to the Bakersfield Police Department.
According to CrimeMapping — a public tool BPD uses to track crime — from June 1 to July 16, there have been 440 auto thefts and 618 burglaries in Bakersfield. Burglaries are on track to surpass their marks from the June 1 to July 31 period of last year. Auto thefts are on track to surpass its mark from the same period in 2018.
Aggravated assaults — requiring a weapon or serious bodily injury — also appear on track to surpass its 2019 June and July marks. In June alone this year, 103 aggravated assaults were recorded by BPD; in 2019, BPD recorded 162 aggravated assaults from June 1 to July 31.
Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer responded to the apparent increases, pointing to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s policies regarding the state mandated “zero bail” in jails as well as decreasing prison populations as a COVID-19 precaution.
“Law enforcement is increasingly being deprived of the tools needed to combat gang violence and repeat offenders, and the pandemic further has inhibited options usually available to combat these types of crimes, which are major drivers of crime in our community,” Zimmer said.
“The pandemic has added yet another obstacle to law enforcement’s efforts to curb rising crime rates that are rooted in Newsom’s policy decisions that repeatedly place criminals ahead of law-abiding citizens.”
On July 10, Newsom estimated potentially 8,000 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation inmates would be released by the end of August in an effort to reduce prison populations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Newsom previously said the releases are a “very methodical process,” excluding sex offenders, violent felons and those convicted of domestic violence.