BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Last Friday, the employees of Downtown Bakersfield clothing store Old Skool Clothing Co. were fixing doors and cleaning up broken glass as a result of a burglary the night before.
Owner Derek Prior told 17 News the burglars pried the door open with a crow bar overnight and got away with 46 pairs of sunglasses, various items of clothing, hats, gym bags and their cash register.
This was the sixth break-in for the business since the beginning of 2022.
“Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of punishment [the cops are allowed],” Prior said.
Robert Pair, with the Bakersfield Police Department agreed: “It’s a lot more complicated than people think.”
Burglary happens when suspects break in while a store is closed and is considered a nonviolent offense. Robbery deals with the threat of force or violence and is considered a violent crime. Theft happens when the store is open and suspects get away with merchandise and can be charged as a misdemeanor.
“Each burglary is completely different,” Pair said.
Ultimately, Pair said, police have to establish probable cause in order to identify a suspect.
“The facts and circumstances are different depending on if there’s surveillance footage. Did the suspect cut themselves on glass and leave blood or DNA? Did they leave fingerprints? Are there witnesses?” Pair said
“Just one [of those] doesn’t mean that is probable cause,” Pair added.
Pair said they then have to contact the individual and locate the stolen property.
California’s changing laws
The reason all the protocols exist, Pair said, is to safeguard people and make sure there is enough evidence so innocent people don’t get in trouble. But changing laws can make it difficult for police to keep criminals off the street and result in repeat offenders.
“California has its own unique laws,” Pair said. “There’s a lot of debate on whether the decriminalization of things has had an effect.”
For example, the decriminalization of drugs creates a ripple effect, Pair said. “Drug users are often involved in crimes to support their habits.”
Aside from arrest, Pair added, treatment could also be a viable solution for drug use.
Joe Kinzel at the Kern County District Attorney’s office said the passage of Assembly Bill 109, which moves the responsibility of burglary prosecutions from state prisons to local jails, solves overcrowding in state prisons but creates overcrowding for local jails.
“I there’s no space, the jail has to release them before their full term is served,” Kinzel said. “But, if someone does have a prior strike conviction that qualifies them for prison, they are more likely to serve more of their term.”
Kinzel also said the passage of Proposition 47, which moves burglary or theft of less than $900 to a misdemeanor. This means it is no longer punishable as a felony. Police can only give suspects a ticket unless directly witnessing the crime, Kinzel said. Then, many suspects fail to appear in court, which is also considered a misdemeanor.
“The court now has the ability to give diversion [an order to the defendant to complete terms other than criminal prosecution] over the prosecution’s objection to defenders,” Kinzel said. “There’s really no standards for it.”
Burglaries back on the rise
Prior said that Old Skool is not alone in their struggles with burglaries. Prior said several businesses in their area of Hageman Road and Coffee Road have been victim to burglaries over the past six months.
Since burglary is considered a nonviolent offense, suspects may go to county jail for a few hours, Pair said. It’s difficult to keep them off the street.
Data from BPD shows burglaries have increased 28 percent in the first six months of 2022 to 242. That’s compared to 189 burglaries in the first six months of 2021.
During the first six months of 2019 and 2020 there were 248 and 172 business burglaries, respectively. Pair said Covid has skewed the numbers in 2020 and 2021 because people were home more.
Pair said a suspect may have been arrested three or more times and still get released. Last week, BPD arrested a man on 13 counts of burglary and catalytic converter theft. The suspect is no longer in custody.
Pair said Kern County and Bakersfield have always struggled with property crime, which goes hand in hand with poverty and drug use. The Bakersfield metro area has the highest auto theft rate in the nation.
“Factor in the lessening of laws [in California],” Pair said. “It’s a problem.”