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No roof, no consequences: Homeless crime-rate soaring in Bakersfield

A KCSO deputy walks away from a homeless encampment. Frustration is growing among law enforcement officers as homeless crime-rates soar while state laws limit action.
A KCSO deputy walks away from a homeless encampment. Frustration is growing among law enforcement officers as homeless crime-rates soar while state laws limit action.
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Homelessness, drugs, and crime. It's a common trinity.

With homelessness way up in Bakersfield, Eyewitness News investigated if crime and drugs were up as a result.

The crimes Eyewitness News looked at are all quality of life crimes. Meaning they don't only hurt the victims, these crimes tarnish and tatter the community as a whole.

Some people will say "we don't have a homeless problem, we have a drug problem."

The truth is in Bakersfield, homelessness and drugs are now becoming a crime problem.

Just ask Bakersfield Police Sgt. Nathan McCauley.

"They are time and time again found to be involved in some of these property crimes because that's how they support their habit," McCauley said.

Exactly how much crime is that leading to?

Eyewitness News compiled a list of every trespassing, drunk and disorderly, drug possession, and second-degree burglary arrest Bakersfield police made in the last two years.

In each of these arrests, the person being arrested had to give a home address. Using the addresses of the two homeless shelters in town, we were able to assess the minimum number of homeless people arrested for each crime.

During the two years, we examined BPD made 5,448 arrests for the earlier mentioned four crimes. Of those arrests, more than 3,000 were homeless people.

The homeless accounted for 43 percent of all burglary arrests, 43 percent of all drunk and disorderly arrests, 59 percent of all drug possession arrests, and 75 percent of all trespassing arrests.

To put that in perspective, according to the latest "Point in Time" homeless count, roughly 1,064 homeless people living in Bakersfield. According to the most recent population data from the United States Census Bureau roughly 383,579 people live in the city.

All of the crimes that led to those 3,000-plus arrests were committed by 0.27 percent of the population.

What law enforcement will tell you is worse is that many of those arrests led to little-to-no jail time.

Something officers may not agree with, but over which they have no control. They made the arrest, they did their job. Everything after that is out of their hands.

"We can't pick what they [judges] are going to mandate them to do," McCauley said.

This lack of a heavy hand from the courts has led to frustration in the ranks of the Kern County Sheriff's Office.

A recent survey of deputies asked, "How do you feel when you see someone breaking the law 24 hours after you arrested them?"

The most common responses: frustrated, angry, betrayed, confused, and slapped in the face.

That's the level of frustration when officers make an arrest. Many times officers don't even have the power to arrest someone, even if there is proof they broke the law.

It's another way statewide decriminalization has tied the hands of those enforcing the law, preventing them from cuffing the hands of those breaking the law.

When any officer shows up to one of these situations only to find out they aren't allowed to do their job; it's disheartening.

"So, if we come out to help with a problem and we come out and we can't help with that problem," McCauley said. "Then what was the point?"

Sgt. McCauley believes this is unfair to the rest of the population because they pay their taxes to be protected, not to watch crime run free of consequence.

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"We have a duty to the rest of our community as well to make sure we are protecting their property and their best interests as well and we're not fixing their problem by letting them right back out without treatment."

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