In an emergency, one of the first things you do is dial 911. But, 17 News has received numerous complaints about long response times in a non-emergency. Bakersfield's Chief of Police and Kern County's Sheriff talked to 17 News about what's causing slower response times.
At the oldest tattoo shop in Bakersfield, it's business as usual. But, it's what going on outside that needles owner, Marc DeLeon.
"A lot of parolees, heavy drug use, heavy drinking on the street, less than a half block from the school," explained DeLeon, Owner of Mad Dog Tattoo.
DeLeon has been in business on 19th Street for twenty years. "There's people hanging out, breaking into cars and stuff. It's extremely frustrating because it does take a toll on who comes downtown," he continued.
Despite blatant and illegal activity out on the street, DeLeon said it's pointless to call police.
"We see so much go on, but they're not around. But, it's not lack of them trying, it's a lack of them having manpower to do it," said DeLeon. "It has to be something substantial for them to come out."
It's a frustration echoed by Monty Hawatemeh. He keeps the beer cooler at his AM/PM store locked at night.
"If someone wants beer, it's not convenient for the customer," said Hawatemeh.
But, it's also inconvenient for thieves who routinely steal 18-packs of beer. "I'm fed up with this. It's getting worse. It's getting worse," he explained.
Hawatemeh says it takes police a day or two to respond to his calls. "If those people get injured, they come after us. If they went home and got drunk, they're going to come after us," he noted.
One beer display is now filled with empty boxes. But, that didn't stop two hooded thieves a couple weeks ago when they stole three 18-packs of Budweiser.
"I noticed they went across the street to the apartments and I saw they were hiding the beer," said David Parraz, an AM/PM employee.
Parraz chased after them. "When we showed up, they looked like they were caught, just the shock of their eyes, you know what I mean?" he noted. "They basically gave up real quick and took off running."
Parraz got back two packs of beer. "After two days, take a report, nothing been done about it," explained Hawatemeh.
But, thieves aren't always caught red-handed. Brandy Wilson discovered her back door busted in when she got home from work one day.
"They took our game systems, our TVs, clothes, jewelry and you feel invaded," said Wilson.
Wilson said she called police. "We kept calling every hour on the hour and they just said they were coming, and they never showed up until the next afternoon," she continued.
17 News hears these complaints all the time and so does Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson.
"We respond, but we might not respond in a time to their satisfaction. Sometimes we respond hours after they make the report call," said Chief Williamson.
Williamson said slower response times are partly because of a bigger demand for service. "Where years ago neighbors might be able to work out their issues, now they call the police instead," he continued.
"It's a basic supply and demand issue. We have demand the size of a watermelon and we have supply the size of an apple," he noted.
Over the last ten years, the city has grown by more than 100,000 people, while the department has added 60 officers. "We could always use more manpower, of course," explained Williamson.
But, it's more than manpower. As Williamson explained, more laws on the books put more pressure on police.
"Years ago, spousal abuse used to be a misdemeanor crime. We would allow the cohabitants to stay together. Now, we are commanded to arrest one party if we have evidence and we have to seize certain things from them as well," said Williamson.
"DUI calls, it used to be a one-page report, now it's a five-page report," he continued.
Cops have less time for proactive work. "When I was a young patrolman, I would handle three to four reports a night and the rest of the time proactive police work, looking for bad people doing bad things," said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood.
"Now it's not unusual for a deputy to have eight or ten reports a night," said Youngblood.
Youngblood said criminals who are caught often times spend less time behind bars because of the state realignment plan.
"If you know you're going to go to jail for a year, but you're only going to go to jail for 30 days, there's no teeth in that," explained Youngblood. "It's a lot like parenting. You can threaten, but you gotta be able to follow through."
Instead, low-risk offenders are released back into the community. "People that want to take your stuff, there's more of them on the streets. There's no doubt about that," said Youngblood.
Both Youngblood and Williamson still encourage you to call 9-1-1 if you've been the victim of a crime. But, the reality is you are your own first line of defense.
"Anybody has to protect themselves first because the chance of law enforcement being there when the incident occurs, not likely. The world's changed dramatically, there's no question about that," noted Youngblood.
"We all live in this community. We have families that live in this community. We care about the crime rate, the violent crime rate, property crime rate," said Williamson. "We're trying to meet the enormous demand the public has put on us. We're doing the best job we can."
The Bakersfield Police Department is working on its online reporting system. Right now, there are only ten categories, but soon it will allow people to report more generic crimes, such as littering.