Employees at In Your Wildest Dreams Antiques & Consignments arrive to work each morning not knowing whether they'll find another smashed window, broken locks or people sleeping on the sidewalk. 

Owner Dixie Brewer said she's filled out seven police reports in the past 13 days, and nothing — even $5,000 worth of surveillance cameras — seems to stop the crime rampant in the downtown business's location at 19th and Q streets.

"It's like we have PTSD because we don't want to go into work and see what's happened," Brewer said Tuesday during a breakfast held by the Downtown Business Association and Downtown Bakersfield Development Corp. where a number of business owners vented their frustration regarding increased homelessness and crime.

Almost everywhere you turn downtown, everyone has a recent story of vandalism. Carly Elmore, owner of Blue Stag, a men's clothing store on 20th Street near F Street, said her shop has been vandalized seven times in the past two months. The cash register was taken twice along with merchandise for sale in the store. And a neighboring restaurant also has been broken into several times, she said. 

"I don't think it was any one person," Elmore said. "People just realized it's an easy thing to do. They can steal five pairs of jeans and that's worth almost $1,000."

The crime finally stopped once her landlord hired a nighttime security guard. She also invested in security cameras and posted pictures of people caught on camera in her store windows with a sign saying, "Smile, you're on camera."

A window was smashed at Dagny's Coffee Co. last week and in January, Blue Oak Coffee Roasting's front door was shattered as well. The perpetrators also took a cash register and other items from inside Blue Oak.

Even the post office on 18th Street is a target. Someone recently threw a rock through a front door, and a woman walked into the lobby Monday, took her pants off and then left, a postal official said. Each morning, the custodian has to wash human excrement off the front steps and workers are constantly shooing away transients who ask customers for money or try to sleep on the steps.

Gail Magnus, co-owner of Globe Loan Jewelry Co., speaking at the meeting, said almost every customer who enters her business comments about the disheveled people hanging out across the street. She's witnessed people using the street as a toilet, and believes drugs are being sold out of a nearby hotel. 

"We are better than this," Magnus said. "This cannot happen in my beautiful Bakersfield."

Assistant Police Chief Evan Demestihas, the breakfast's guest speaker, said the department is understaffed and is limited in what it can do in part due to propositions passed by the California Legislature in recent years.

A city of Bakersfield's size should have a police force of between 600 to 700 officers, he said. Currently, the department has 393 officers, with a couple of hundred on the streets each handling 20 to 30 calls a day.

Demestihas said the call volume has been enormous, with about 500,000 calls for service so far this year. And certain calls, such as those reporting homicides and sexual assaults, are given priority over vandalism and other quality-of-life issues.

The department receives numerous calls reporting homeless people hanging around businesses, but Demestihas said "our society and our Legislature have made it clear homelessness is not a crime."

"Our ability to do certain things is really handcuffed," he said.

For instance, someone spotted injecting heroin in public 10 years ago would be arrested and booked into jail. Now, the drug user would be issued a citation and be allowed to walk away, Demestihas said. 

If someone does go to jail, they're often back on the streets in a few hours.

Demestihas said he understands the frustration of business owners, and he's frustrated, too, with the limited resources the department has to handle their concerns. Sometimes, days go by from when a crime such as vandalism is reported to when officers can get around to interviewing the business owner.

The Garden Spot owner Keith Barnes said at the breakfast he's seen a drastic increase in vandalism the past three years, both at his business and where he lives downtown. He said people recently broke into both his vehicle and the vehicle of a neighbor.

Barnes said he reported the break-in 2½ weeks ago and still hasn't heard back from police.

Demestihas said stories like that make him cringe, and he promised officers would be in touch with him. 

He said they're committed to doing better.

"We want to continue this collaboration and figure out a way to solve the problem."

The Californian's Stacey Shepard contributed to this report. Jason Kotowski can be reached at 661-395-7491. Follow him on Twitter: @tbcbreakingnews.

(28) comments

Fram Smith

Excellent comments. A reminder that REMUDA is a payed out of area Troll, that's why his comments make no sense. Please continue to ignore and marginalize his post.

Kennbeal

OK. The police are saying they can’t enforce the law. That means it’s time to DIY to a solution. Let’s create a business watch org to patrol. When a lawbreaker is found, the person is picked up and driven to federal BLM property. I don’t believe there’s a law preventing an owner from removing trespassers and loiters from their property. I have a direct line to a pool of convicts who would help for a small fee.

Copper

This is a ridiculous comment and not actually helpful to a. Wry serious and sad state of affairs

Sickofit

Hate to be mean, but COOPER and jayinbaker, you both are out of touch with reality. All this stems from California legislations and some local government. Stupid California voters also created this mess. Liberal ideology is a negative factor as well. Their hearts are in the right place but more programs don’t work. You both need to go on a ride along and ask questions about why certain things can’t be done. Officer’s are tied. It’s the hospitals policy that regulate whose 5150. The laws define 5150, the officers take people there, BUT the medical staff releases them. There’s so much that the general public doesn’t know about government policies, yet they make stupid comment about it.

Copper

Under the Reagan administration and not without good reason , mental hospitals were systematically shut down and defunded. The goal was to move those monies to smaller hospitals and recovery centers and board and care homes. The 5150 law does in fact tie the hands of police to help get the mentally ill off the streets into treatment centers.the 5150 law has to be changed. Even once a person gets picked up and out into PET unit their are many more roadblocks to keeping them their. But recovery does work, obviously not 100 percent but taking care of our mentally ill would dramatically cut back on the homeless population. And for your information Sickofit, I have first hand experience with the system. It took 36 phone calls to police , 4 arrests for misdeamoners, 3 hospitalizations ,2 MET team visits,10 in field visits by social workers,over 3 long scary excruciating years of never giving up. My son is now going on his 4 th year of mental health recovery , on his medication, and doing wonderfully. It should NEVER be that hard to get a loved one help. Most families get frustrated and quit trying to get their loved one help. The mental health system hear in Keen County has improved dramatically over the last 4 years under the new leadership. Thank God . My son was basically placed into a conservatorship , forced into treatment , and is now so happy to be back. Their is a law called Laura’s Law that helps family’s to get loved ones into treatment. So I do know what I’m talkkng about , I’ve lived it.

Inconvenient Truth

Why are there more criminals and drug addicts on our streets? Why has crime been increasing?
It could be just a coincidence, but here are some Inconvenient Truths:
Jerry Brown took office as governor on January 3rd, 2011. Since that time, Brown, the Democrat-controlled Legislature, and Coastal California Voters have given us the following “Legal Reforms:”

AB-109 (2011): Released 30,000 CDC Felons into already overcrowded local jails resulting in across-the-board early releases for local ‘non-violent’ criminals. Prohibits all future felons from ever being sent to prison for nearly all ‘Non-Serious/Non-Violent’ Property or Drug Felonies regardless of how many times they continue to re-offend.
AB-2372 (2011): Increased the Threshold between ‘Petty’ and ‘Grand’ Theft from $400 to $950 (All future thefts under $950 are now misdemeanors REGARDLESS of how many times the thief continues to steal or how many prior Felony convictions for Grand Theft, Commercial Burglary, or Auto Theft they have).
PROP-36 (2012): Released 3,000 ‘Three-Strikes’ Felons whose Third Felony was ‘Non-Serious/Non-Violent.’
Prop-47 (2014): Erased 198,000 Felony Convictions; Released 13,500 prison inmates; Reduced nearly all ‘Non-Violent/Non-Serious’ Property and Drug Felonies to Misdemeanors (including past convictions and all such future crimes).
Prop-57 (2016): Jerry Brown personally raised $4.14 million in support of this Initiative that gives Early Parole to Thousands of Sex Offenders due to a drafting error.

Could any of this possibly be Cause & Effect?

Stephen

OK, homelessness may not be a crime but vandalism and trespassing is. And if we want this sort of crime to stop there needs to be a consequences for bad behavior. As long as we're told to suck it up and call our insurance, because no one is going to enforce the law and arrest perpetrators, crime will not just continue but it will continue to climb. We need to recognize decent security costs money. Casting a knee jerk "no" vote on the tax proposals this fall isn't a solution.

Copper

Our jails are full or courthouses backed up police too busy and under manned. Obviously the way we as a society have been handling serious systemic issues of poverty, mental illness and addiction has not been working. But now that it vandalism and homelessness is spilling over into the “nice” neighborhoods and affecting businesses it’s getting attention. In the long run this is good because it’s going to force a solution. I’m a self employed small business owner and it sucks to be vandalized. So let’s get informed about the root cause and issues , demand our leaders to address them.

SardonicWisdom

Absolutely correct on all points. And downtown is not the only area affected. Our business up by Garces High has been vandalized three times in the last two months and we have a tent encampment on the vacant property north and west of us...nothing seems to get done and we have spent thousands of dollars trying to secure our property.

REMUDA

Interesting comments, however, mostly "band-aids 'n aspirin tablets" as 'offerings'(?). Unlike these recurring 'incidents' (Donny's "New Normal"?) --
In aerospace, we use a "fault tree" focused on determination of the "root cause".

-- Example: Columbia 'Disaster' foam shedding: --- see Figure "2.2. Fault tree Analysis for the disaster"

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263697156_Columbia_Space_Disaster_Fault_Tree_analysis_report

"Unintended consequences of decisions contributed to the failure: the original tank white paint was removed to save 600 lb (270 kg), exposing the rust-orange-colored foam; the tank foam chemical composition was altered to meet Environmental Protection Agency requirements, weakening it;" --

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Columbia_disaster

So is there a useful "FAULT TREE" (War Board) planned here . . . ?

Copper

It’s sad to see so many mentally ill , veterans, addicts and extreme impoverished people wandering our streets. Shame on us as a society and culture that we allow this to continue. Treat humans humanely , force them into treatment if need be. Build affordable housing and job training centers. Sorry for all the businesses affected but until we are all affected by this issue of homelessness and mental health issues and then care enough to demand our tax money and politicians to do real tangible things to fix it , we will all suffer.

jayinbaker

It's the old story. Do nothing and nothing happens. When the police do nothing on the first act, the perpetrator does it again over and over again. Over 60% of these acts are committed by the same parties who were not acted upon in their first act. The police spend all of their time writing reports, not taking care of the problem. All the extra taxes will not stop this unless proper actions are not taken. Police need to nip it in the bud the first time and set an example of what is going to happen to others if they do the same. Had the first offence been handled properly, there would not be 10-15 follow up reports. Pure and simple. The criminals are simply laughing at getting away with their acts.

Copper

We incarcerate more people than China. Throwing people in jail clearly is not the answer to societal woes. Excluding of course violent crimes. But petty theft and vandalism and the breakdown of mental health services , addiction services, job training and affordable housing will go a long was to turning the tide of this problem. Let’s start with our 5150 laws and make it easier for officers to place people into mental hospitals..

Inconvenient Truth

We only incarcerate more people than China because China Executes their criminals:
https://www.amnesty.org/en/press-releases/2017/04/china-must-come-clean-about-capital-punishment/

LogicalPOV

Based on your earlier comments, it seems like you know a lot about this stuff. So, rather than placing blame, what ideas do you have to fix this? Because Copper makes a comment about what we can do differently, and all you've done is fact check him on a minor point.

ReefRanger

You actually have to blame the voters for part of the problem. In 2012, voters passed a proposition allowing the CDCR to let thousands of criminals out of the overcrowded prison system. Where did they go? Most of them went to the streets because they had no place else to go, and no job prospects. Many of them were drug abusers who went back to stealing to support their habit. In the last election, voters passed the proposition making theft of less than $950 an offense punishable by a citation. And as far as the police being understaffed, it has nothing to do with the departments not having the money to pay their salaries (I don't know where you get the idea that they make "fat salaries," they don't make nearly enough.), It has to do with the fact that in the current era of hatred for police, they can't get anyone to fill the jobs. In San Bernardino County, the largest county in CA, they are SEVEN HUNDRED officers short of their full complement. And they cant get anyone to hire on. No one wants to be a target of either bullets or public disdain. You cant blame the cops for ills that society brings on itself. You should be directing your ire towards the legislators who write the stupid laws that allow this stuff to happen, and make them take notice with your vote!

LogicalPOV

" Most of them went to the streets because they had no place else to go, and no job prospects."

Do you have a source for that claim? Or is that your own idea of what could have happened? Honest question.

GaryJohns

Keep feeding and housing them, make them feel welcome and all warm and fuzzy.... and they'll surely go away....

Copper

And where should they go? To another town or neighborhood? This problem is a systemic one and needs to be addressed accordingly.

LogicalPOV

Right on! 100% agree.

JimmyDude

Will the 1 cent sales tax increase (thats a 14% increase, by the way) really...... REALLY.... put more officers on the streets? If so, lets pass it and start making Bakersfield safer for all of us.

RefereeB

You will not see another officer on the streets. They whine for more staffing when we already cannot afford their fat pensions. Tandy had an opportunity to appoint a new chief and he picked a 3rd generation former Police Union boss. Certainly we will see reform there? VOTE DOWN THE 14% SALES TAX INCREASE AND HAVE THEM LIVE WITHIN THEIR MEANS LIKE MY FAMILY DOES!

Michannemag

I am wondering if legalizing and taxing marijuana would be a big enough increase for all agencies to benefit?

Copper

Absolutely but the politicians in Bakersfiekd have blocked this. Vote them out of office and get someone who will implement it.

Vico17

Wow. One reason people end up homeless is because of drug abuse. Your solution is to make drugs more readily available? Mental problems is another reason people end up in skid row. An unstable person on drugs, w drugs all around is supposed to miraculously have a better chance in life somehow? Really? Less drugs=less mental=less crime=less tax burden on all working citizens, and for those Libs who hate the police=less police needed=less pensions to fund. Try working 5 or 6 days a week. No more than one beer a day after work, clean living and giving thanks to the Lord on Sundays. It works. The problem is abuse and abusers afterwords.

Michannemag

I am wondering if legalizing and taxing marijuana would benefit all of the agencies needing additional money?

Copper

Putting more officers is only a small piece of the equation. Until we loosen the interpretation of the 5150 law , the officers hands are tied. We need to be able to force people into mental and addiction recovery services and house them .

Kennbeal

Yes.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.