Kern County hit a milestone earlier this week: The county's homicide count for the year reached 105, up from 100 last year and marking the second year in a row the county has seen 100 or more homicides, according to coroner's office records.
The 2018 tally is the highest number of homicides since the county's electronic case management system went into effect in 2009, Coroner Division Chief Dawn Ratliff said.
Numbers for 2016 were not immediately available, but records showed there were 81 homicides countywide in 2015.
Kern also has the unfortunate distinction of the highest homicide rate in the state with 9.9 homicides per 100,000 people, according to 2017 statistics compiled by the state Attorney General's Office.
Sheriff's Cmdr. Adam Plugge said there's no one answer as to why homicides are high this year. It's not a crime like burglaries, for instance, where if three locations have been hit in a certain area law enforcement can devote resources to try and prevent a fourth.
Homicides occur for all reasons. It could be a spousal abuse situation, Plugge said, or gang-related or involve an argument over drugs. There is no predicting when or where a killing will occur.
As far as preventative measures, Plugge said the Sheriff's Office will continue with its programs reaching out to gang members, dealing with those suffering a mental health crisis and in-custody settings where efforts are made to try to convince those in trouble to turn their lives around.
Wesley Davis Jr., a community activist who lost his son, Wendale, 16, to gang violence 12 years ago, said his initial reaction to this year's homicide number is "that's horrible, it's terrible." But he believes gang violence is down, and, like Plugge, said there can be many reasons as to why there were so many homicides this year.
To help effect change, Davis said he'll continue to focus on early intervention programs to persuade youth to stay out of gangs. Children need mentorship and positive role models, he said, and the earlier they get that the better.
"I think that’s the ultimate answer for the reduction of these murders and this violence, period," Davis said.