Local News

Friday, Mar 07 2014 05:30 PM

'Coffee with a Cop' brings out concerns about meth use

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Kern County Sheriff's Office Patrol Cmdr. Drake Massey talks with Oildale residents Sandy Boston, and Barney and Marty Barnes, right, Friday at Covenant Coffee House on North Chester Avenue during the "Coffee with a Cop" event.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Kern County Sheriff's Detective Cmdr. Tyson Davis, center, was one of several representatives from the sheriff's office who came out Friday to the Covenant Coffee House in Oildale to talk with concerned citizens during the "Coffee with a Cop" event.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Several concerned citizens came to Covenant Coffee House in Oildale Friday to talk with Kern County Sheriff's law enforcement officers to express concerns about their neighborhoods and community.

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BY RUTH BROWN Californian staff writer rbrown@bakersfield.com

They've been assaulted, egged, burglarized and name-called.

And it's all tied to one thing -- methamphetamine use.

That's what dominated talk at "Coffee with a Cop," a get-together held at Covenant Coffee in Oildale Friday where the Kern County Sheriff's Office invited residents to discuss neighborhood concerns.

Sheriff's officials said the goal was to introduce themselves to community members and swap information with them, all in an effort to improve quality of life in Oildale.

Coffee with a Cop is a new sheriff's initiative that could be expanded to additional locations if it proves productive, according to the department.

On Friday, Debra Rush of Oildale said she's been the victim of thefts, including of her car. She said putting meth users in jail is not the answer. Putting them in a year-long treatment program, she said, would be a better use of taxpayer money.

"It's not so much gangs here, but it's our drug users. It's the very, very bad drug users causing problems," Rush said. "Those are the (people) that steal from you. And if they get that taken care of, then I really do believe our thefts would go down."

From 2012 to 2013, narcotics use in the county has increased, Kern County sheriff's Detective Division Commander Tyson Davis said. He called the increase "directly related" to prison realignment.

Realignment is the shifting of incarceration and supervision of state inmates convicted of non-violent, non-sexual, non-serious crimes to counties to reduce state prison populations. The effort has resulted in the early release of felons from overcrowded county jails.

The number of robberies and assaults has also risen, Davis said, crimes commonly a result of drug use.

Dawn Hinton has lived in Oildale since 1979 and is frustrated with the number of drug users she sees. She said she regularly calls police when she sees illegal activity or meth use.

While law enforcement officials do respond, she said, they often have their "hands tied" because they can't keep suspects in jail after they bond out.

She also fears that with realignment, criminals aren't serving their full sentences.

But she didn't leave the Sheriff's Office off the hook completely. Once when she addressed the issue with a deputy, Hinton said, he told her: "you just need to move."

She said part of the problem is people saying "it's just Oildale," and accepting the problem because of the area's negative reputation.

"(In Oildale), you are immediately categorized as a tweaker, a hillbilly or white trash," Hinton said.

While Hinton takes precautions -- such as using security cameras and having pepper spray, a Taser gun and a firearm in her home -- she doesn't feel safe.

Kern County sheriff's Sgt. James Anton said his goal for the event was to discuss issues such as the ones residents brought forward.

"We're trying to give the public some access to us and see what their concerns are, to see what we can do to help," Anton said.

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