Dozens of downtown business owners met Tuesday morning to talk about how to deal with what they say is a growing wave of petty crime, vandalism, drug use and vagrancy plaguing the city's central district.
They purposely did not invite the Bakersfield Police Department.
"I don't think it's because they don't want to help. They just can't," said Dixie Brewer, owner of In Your Wildest Dreams consignment store.
Brewer's shop at 19th and Q streets has been beset with incidents of theft, malicious destruction of property and more. But she is hardly alone.
The stories shared by several at the meeting included everything from aggressive panhandling and broken windows to physical confrontations, human feces left on city sidewalks and drug users masturbating in public.
Many at the meeting said they support the department and local officers, but they have finally concluded that the BPD has neither the resources to help nor the legal backing or infrastructure to take effective action.
Prison reform passed in California "pulled the teeth of police," said Marvin Fuller Jr., president of the alarm division of M&S Security Services, which has an office on L Street.
"I understand their response time isn't very good," Fuller said as a voice from the back piped up, "That's an understatement."
Mike McCoy, the executive director of Kern County Museum on Chester Avenue, said vagrants and street people getting onto the museum's property has become a "daily problem."
"We made four 911 phone calls. No response. Zero," McCoy said.
"They finally came out at 8 o'clock at night for a call at 9 in the morning."
Brewer said she had a man in her shop for four hours with four female employees. He wouldn't leave. He was sexually explicit, she said, but not violent.
Eventually someone came to help. But he wasn't a police officer.
"Officers gave me their cell numbers," Brewer said. "I do call. They do not answer."
Some said they're worried someone will eventually get injured or killed.
But Melanie Farmer, president of the Downtown Business Association, which hosted the meeting, said the DBA's Block to Block program is designed to give area business owners more control over what happens around their businesses.
Unveiled in February, the idea is aimed at coordinating communication on safety and other challenges facing downtown Bakersfield. "Block captains" are supposed to gather updates from fellow business and property owners, then report them at area-wide forums where problems can be addressed at a higher level.
But at Tuesday's meeting, business owners seemed ready to take a more aggressive step by hiring security guards. It's clear the frustration level is reaching a boiling point.
"If I took off my clothes in the middle of the street, I think I would be arrested," said James Banks, who has a State Farm Insurance office at 18th and Eye streets. But for some reason, he said, police don't seem to want to deal with it if the person is homeless or mentally ill.
Bakersfield Police have previously said they work to prioritize calls, and believe funds from Measure N will help, including with police staffing.
As the meeting broke up, a show of hands indicated that most of those who attended felt the meeting was productive.
But there was also a sense that the many are at the end of their rope — and their patience is wearing thin.