Numbers released Wednesday show the crime rate continues to increase in Kern County. Many believe it's because prison realignment is putting more convicted criminals on our streets.
Compared to last year, crime is up 9 percent in the county and 20 percent in Bakersfield, according to local law enforcement officials.
"We are continuing to see the crime rates rise," said Undersheriff Rosemary Wahl of the Kern County Sheriff's Department.
According to the Sheriff's Department, comparing 2011 to 2012, in Kern County burglaries are up 17 percent, robberies up 19 percent, and grand theft of autos is up 22 percent.
"It is a very concerning prospect and you can see the difference in our neighborhoods and our communities," said Wahl.
In Bakersfield, it's worse. According to the Bakersfield Police Department, comparing 2011 to 2012, homicides are up 72 percent, rapes up 68 percent and grand theft auto up 34 percent.
"It's been over six years since our crime rate increased. It's been steadily declining over the last six years," said Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson.
These alarming numbers were released at a Community Corrections Partnership meeting Wednesday. They're up from the crime numbers released just two months ago.
"It's a community concern. People want to feel safe in their neighborhoods and we want to try to help make that happen, but it's going to be an effort with all law enforcement in the criminal justice system and the community coming together to try to safen our neighborhoods," said Wahl.
So what's to blame? Many officials suspect prison realignment because, they say, now more people are sentenced to overcrowded county jails where they're released early.
"Because of realignment, they're not in prison, and they're out in the communities. And, with that comes the increased crime," said Wahl.
Realignment is the state's reaction to a federal mandate that forced prisons to lower their inmate population. But, while realignment helps the state comply, Kern County is feeling an overwhelming burden.
"I'm raising a family here in this town as well, so I am just as concerned as everyone else," said Chief Williamson. "I think we have to look not only to the state, but also within our local organizations to try and determine the best avenue to take so we can protect and keep our community safe."