Kern leaders unite to improve safety

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Kern leaders unite to improve safetyKern County leaders have thrown their support to the “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe” initiative, scheduled for the 2020 General Election ballot, which addresses a series of state initiatives that public safety officials say have ultimately contributed to the increase in crime across the state.

The controversial trend started in 2011, when the legislature — with the support of former Gov. Jerry Brown — passed AB 109 to reduce the state prison population. Enactment triggered the early release of convicts, more than 1,000 of whom were squeezed out onto the streets of Kern.

Proposition 47 — under the name of the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act” — reclassified numerous classes of felonies as misdemeanors. That, along with Prop 57, which restructured sentencing guidelines, meant that penalties for crimes that had previously carried jail time (including those for weapons theft, possession of date-rape drugs and more) were reduced to a citation.

Last year, the state eliminated the bail bond system, which led to the majority of accused perpetrators being released before sentencing.

The most recent action by current Gov. Gavin Newsom is a bill that excuses citizens from cooperating with law enforcement endeavoring to maintain order.

On Friday Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer and Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh signed a joint letter of support for the “Keeping California Safe” initiative, which proposes three key changes:

• Creating tougher laws to address repeat theft offenders and organized groups that commit thefts that stifle businesses and drive up prices on all consumers

• Closing loopholes that allow inmates convicted of violent crimes to receive early paroles by being treated as “nonviolent” offenders

• Ensuring DNA collection from convicted criminals is an essential tool for solving some of the most serious and violent crimes

“This initiative is an important step in fixing some of the most glaring loopholes that recent efforts at reform have created,” said Zimmer.

“Reinstituting real consequences for repeat theft offenders allows us to combat one of the major issues that has come with the increased homeless population. Our battle to reduce crime in our communities must be fought at the ballot box in order to fix the problems that recent laws have created.”

“I am very supportive of this action,” said Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin.

“This is a necessary modification to the laws enacted during Governor Brown’s time – many of which have had unforeseen consequences.”

McLaughlin noted that effectively removing penalties for theft has triggered a sharp increase in property crimes and early release for violent criminals.

“California has basically reformed the system so that criminals who break the law can get away with it. There have been extreme consequences not just for law enforcement, but also for our communities at large.”

Mayor Pro Tem Lindsey Stephens addressed the issue at last week’s council meeting — expressing her disappointment in California leadership and her support for law enforcement.

“It’s really sad to me that our state continues to spit in the face of our officers,” she said. “These people were elected and took an oath to serve and protect. It seems the only people they are protecting these days are criminals.

“And I’m sorry that our officers have had their hands tied so severely … I stand with you all, and I appreciate everything you do.”

“I honestly don’t think this one will negatively impact our community,” said McLaughlin.

He noted that there was a Bay Area incident of an officer trying to subdue a suspect, while bystanders’ only interaction was to record videos that later went viral.

By contrast, he said, two local citizens were commended last week for their heroic life-saving actions.

Matt Read and Josh Pierce, while riding in a vehicle, saw a home on fire and leapt into action. Upon arrival they heard screams for helping coming from inside. After failing to break through the front door, they smashed a window and crawled through shards of glass on their hands and knees to get to the victim, who was fastened in a wheelchair.

They knocked over the chair, cutting him out of the chair’s seat belt, and dragged him to safety.

Thanks to their actions, and the assistance of the law enforcement on the scene, “That victim is still with us.”

Pictured: Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer and RPD Chief Jed McLaughlin at a recent function. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-09-13