Violent crime topic of discussion
June 18, 2020 | View PDF
Last week Kern County leaders met for an online roundtable discussion on the increased crime in Wasco.
City Manager Daniel Ortiz-Hernandez, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer and Undersheriff Doug Jauch. Vincent Martinez of the North Kern News moderated the discussion on Facebook.
"There have been seven violent crimes within the past 10 months, with four this year with one person in critical condition as of last week," Martinez said.
"We've had 53 homicides in the last 10 months in the county," Youngblood said. "Wasco is comparable to the rest of the county."
Youngblood continued that when oil was $100 a barrel, the city was flush; when it dropped to $60 a barrel, the city panicked; and when it went to zero dollars a barrel, and then Covid-19 hit, the city fell apart.
"With the dissolution of the gang unit, violent crime is not down in our county," Youngblood said. "This is the perfect storm for the criminal, and the perfect storm for trouble."
Cortez mentioned that the city of Wasco voted on Measure X, which was a $.01 sales tax increase to be used for safety when needed.
Youngblood added that the officers have not stopped responding to calls, and if the officers can handle cases on the phone, they will do so. "Officers do not know who has Coivd-19, and they need to protect themselves."
"We have had one officer who tested positive for Covid-19 and has been out of work for the past two months," Youngblood said. "We want to keep Covid-19 out of the jails."
"The stats from Wasco show that they have made a large amount of arrests," Youngblood said. "That's what the deputies are doing in Wasco."
Martinez brought up that the city of Shafter has not had a shooting since 2015, and he believes that is why the Wasco community is commenting on the cities with comparable socioeconomic populations.
Because Shafter has its own police department, Youngblood could not comment on the comparison of Shafter and Wasco violent crimes.
"We had a great plan when we had a gang task force," Youngblood said. "Wasco is closer to the gang activity in Delano. We can't get the number of deputies that are necessary."
"The gang task force was eliminated during the downturn due to budget constraints."
Youngblood sees one of the major problems with the increase in crime is the use of masks. "You can now wear a mask, and nobody thinks anything about it," Youngblood said. "Robbery is so much easier today than it was six months ago."
Youngblood also commented on the increase in crimes, such as vehicle theft and burglary. "When oil was at $100 a barrel, the city was flush, when it dropped to $60 a barrel, the city panicked and when it dropped to zero dollars a barrel, the city collapsed," Youngblood said.
A discussion on an oversight committee was brought up. Youngblood said that the sheriff has oversight by the district attorney and the grand jury and lastly, the federal Department of Justice.
"It is my job to oversee whether an officer uses unusual force," Youngblood said.
I would be remiss to subject my officers to a community oversite committee and that kind of scrutiny."
District Attorney then addressed violent crimes. "Most gun crimes are gang-related," Zimmer said. "In six homicides in Kern County, one of those has been solved."
In answering a question from Cortez, Zimmer said that victims of crime who are not legally in the country will not be asked whether they are citizens. "We do not want to report victims of crime," Zimmer said. "We don't care if you are an immigrant or not. If you are a good citizen and a victim of a crime, then you are fine; however, if you are a criminal who commits a crime, then a follow-up visit from Immigration and Naturalization may follow."
"It's of concern to us when we book someone into jail," Youngblood said. "We don't ask whether you are legal or illegal."
While questioning by Martinez of criticism directed to officers not going after criminals who commit minor crimes, "We are still in the middle of a pandemic," Youngblood said. "I don't expect our officers to go after someone going five miles over the speed limit."
Youngblood added that the lieutenants and sergeants are in control of what they do in their substations.
He explained that the City of Bakersfield officers are in charge of 44 square miles, while the Sheriff's Department has over 1,800 square miles to maintain.
Youngblood added that his department relies on the experts within the communities. "Wasco has the best deputies," Youngblood said. "For the last 15 years, Wasco has been the best."
Jauch said that the Sheriff's Department had to put officers on 12-hour shifts when the virus hit, and that limited their availability.
"In the use of officer-involved responses, we take our position very seriously," Zimmer said. "We are keeping a very watchful eye. We try to encourage community involvement."
Youngblood added that the county officially stopped the carotid artery hold this past week and has not used it.