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."