Kern County crime impact

Bianca Cacciola, Reporter

Law enforcement agencies in Kern County have proposed a new systematic way to keep misdemeanor drug offenders off the streets. Sheriff Donny Youngblood and District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer teamed up, along with local judges, in an effort to control the growing homeless epidemic.

Kern County’s policy would implement stricter consequences of selected low-level crimes. Instead of receiving multiple citations for the possession of drugs and theft, they could be arrested and held in jail with no-bail warrants until their scheduled trial date.

If the suspect is convicted guilty, they would face up to one year of jail time.

“We’d like to be able to not give someone a ticket who has possession of drugs, a ticket to someone who has vandalized, a ticket for someone with a promise to go to court. They don’t go to court. They don’t go to court because they are high and they can’t make these kinds of decisions. They have to go to jail,” said Zimmer in a Board of Supervisors meeting.

Kern County and the City of Bakersfield anticipate that drug offenders will take advantage of the opportunity of rehab programs after time in jail.

Youngblood and Zimmer’s call to action comes five years after proposition 47 was passed in California by voters. Prop 47 is “a law that changed certain low-level crimes from potential felonies to misdemeanors. The savings from reduced incarceration costs will be invested into drug and mental health treatment, programs for at-risk students in K-12 schools, and victim services,” according to the Prop 47 website.

Along with the battle to enact the policy, more detention deputies are in need to facilitate Kern County jails as there are about 600 empty beds that could be filled.

Negotiations are in process for Bakersfield to help the county staff more deputies, which would enable the beds to house more of those who are convicted.

“Those empty beds, it’s not because crime has gone down, it’s because we’re letting them prey on our citizens. If we let this grow any more, we’re not going to be able to contain this,” said Youngblood at the meeting.

Assuming the policy will help decrease some of the crime in Bakersfield, it would also provide a chance for the drug offenders to get clean and be off the streets.

“When they’re on the street, they’re lining up to find drugs, not get into programs. I get phone calls every single day. Our citizens are done, they’re through,” said Youngblood at the Board of Supervisors meeting. “They want something done and they want law enforcement to do it.”   

The proposed policy is in response to vocal concerns and problems of local residents.

They say it is overpowering criminal activity that has occurred daily.