Kern County experienced the highest homicide rate in California in 2019, the third straight year it's claimed the No. 1 spot, according to a state report.
There were 9.2 homicides per 100,000 residents in Kern last year, according to a report by the state Department of Justice. There were a total of 84 homicides in 2019.
The second-highest county, San Bernardino, experienced 6.7 homicides per 100,000 residents.
Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer called it "disappointing" that Kern ranked atop the state in homicides per capita. But she noted this year's homicide rate was the lowest since 2015, when it was 7.4 homicides per 100,000 residents.
Kern County had 11.1 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2018, and a rate of 9.9 in 2016 and 2017.
"We were very, very happy that the homicide rate did not go up," Zimmer said.
The major contributing cause for the high number, she said, is gang violence, compounded by the fact that Kern County's population is poorer than most other counties. She also said a rollback of certain laws in recent years has taken away the ability to incarcerate violent people.
Prosecuting homicides is a focus for Zimmer and she said in 2019, her office prosecuted more murders than in any year before. And, because of financial challenges within the county, it was done with fewer deputy district attorneys than other counties of similar size.
The report also showed there were 20 use of force incidents by single agencies in the county last year. The Kern County Sheriff's Office had two, the Bakersfield Police Department had 13, the California City Police Department had one, the Tehachapi Police Department had one and the California Highway Patrol had three.
Use of force also resulted in one civilian death each for the Kern County Sheriff's Office and Bakersfield, California City and Tehachapi police departments. All four were Hispanic males between 18 to 45 years old, the report said.
From a statewide perspective, Kern County ranked eighth-highest on use-of-force incidents. Los Angeles County had the highest total with 190, followed by San Bernardino County (95), Riverside (61), San Diego County (51), Orange County (47), Sacramento County (25) and Santa Clara County (24).
One BPD officer and two CCPD officers were injured last year, while two KCSO deputies suffered serious bodily injuries.
According to the report, there were three individuals sentenced to death in California last year, including one from Kern.
There were also seven hate crime events in the county in 2019.
Overall, the state saw decreases in homicide rate (4.5 percent), robbery rate (4.5 percent), motor vehicle theft rate (9.6 percent) and total adult and juvenile arrest rates (3.5 percent and 5 percent, respectively).