Local News

Thursday, Oct 18 2012 03:50 PM

Police fight to keep up with possible realignment-related crimes

BY REBECCA KHEEL Californian staff writer rkheel@bakersfield.com

The task force created to deal with the possibility of an increase in crime in the wake of realignment has arrested a number of people who previously would have been sent to state prison, according to a presentation by the Bakersfield Police Department on Thursday.

Still, the department needs more resources to combat increasing crime that it suspects is a result of realignment, according to the presentation to the City Council's Safe Neighborhoods and Community Relations Committee.

"This came on so fast, we were not prepared to handle the issue," Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson told the committee.

Realignment, also known as AB109, is a state program aimed at alleviating prison overcrowding by sentencing inmates convicted of non-violent, non-serious and non-sexual crimes to county supervision rather than state prison. This month marks the first anniversary of the program's start.

In July, the Bakersfield Police Department created the Career Criminal Apprehension Team to help with an expected increase in crime. In the team's first few months, it has arrested 30 to 35 people per month, said Sgt. Damon Youngblood.

Of those, 20 percent to 25 percent had been on probation under realignment. Sixteen gang-related arrests were of realignment probationers, as well.

Three murder suspects in recent months had also been released under realignment, Youngblood said. Two have been arrested, and one is still outstanding.

Despite these arrests, a year is not long enough to definitively say that realignment has caused an increase in crime, said Assistant Police Chief Lyle Martin.

"Anecdotally, are we seeing an increase in crime? Absolutely," he said. "But it's going to take time for the statistics to come in and for us to go through them systematically."

Another issue with determining if realignment is resulting in an increase in crime is that the police department does not have a computerized system to identify if someone arrested is a realignment probationer. The department is in the process of updating its record management system to keep track of that, Martin said. The update should be complete within 90 to 120 days.

The department needs to come to the City Council and the city manager's office to request more money for resources to cope with realignment, said Councilman Russell Johnson. State funding goes toward incarceration and probation, Johnson said, not suppression, which is what the BPD is trying to accomplish.

"I don't see this problem going away, and I don't see the state getting more money to put these guys back in jail," he said.

But city resources are tight, as well, he added. Police should suggest at least three options on a sliding scale to maximize the possibility of getting more funding, he said.

"We need to be nimble, and we need to react," he said.

In the meantime, Chief Williamson said, the department is trying to be creative and work within its means by looking internally and working with its community partners.

"We didn't have all the resources in place that we wanted to," he said. "We're doing the best we can."

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