WASCO, Calif. (KGET) — In a public meeting that lasted into early Thursday evening, Wasco city leaders and Kern County Sheriff officials heard from a small crowd about what needs to happen for their neighborhood to become safer.
The Mayor and Moms sit-down was part of a campaign by city leaders to build strongers ties with citizens and have an open discussion about their problems.
It was hosted at a park off 15th Street, just blocks away from two recent killings that happened before and after Christmas last year.
“I think the call for action is there for residents,” Mayor Alex Garcia said. “they have to take ownership in reclaiming this neighborhood. We have to lean in and get engaged in the solutions.”
One issue brought up multiple times was that not enough people report crimes, which city leaders are trying to change. Beyond community outreach the city is trying to implement several tech solutions to solve —and prevent — crimes.
That includes a ShotSpotter lease that Mayor Garcia says will be worked into the midyear operating budget. ShotSpotter can detect gunfire down to the exact area the shots were fired. The coverage alone would cost up to $100,000 a year, but Garcia said it’s worth investing in the trial. He said he’s also confident the city will be able to fit in a rebate program that could cover some of the costs for home security cameras. That program would go hand-in-hand with the registry already used by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, which lets investigators know which homes have cameras that could have caught evidence of a crime. Garcia said the city council will go over the proposals again, either at the Jan. 19 council meeting or the one after it.
But during and after the meeting people expressed concerns that the problems run deep. Carlos Harrison grew up in Wasco. He says he wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else, but he knows things can be better than they have been.
“We really need everyone to come together in Wasco…sometimes we have this thing of red, blue, you know, but it’s about what’s best for the whole of Wasco, that’s what needs to happen here,” Harrison said after the meeting.
He said he feels like the community is “mixed up” and there are too many young men dying.
“It’s really a good place to live, but yet again it’s a small town with small town problems,” Harrison said.
Garcia and multiple officials stayed after the meeting to speak with people at the park, and encouraged them to bring more people to the upcoming Mayor and Moms meeting next month. A message Garcia repeated through the night was that for the community effort to work, more people had to be willing to report the troublemakers in the neighborhood.
“We’re going to send a message to the bad characters in this community that ‘you’re not welcome here.’ This is our neighborhood, this is our park and we’re going to reclaim it,” Garcia said.
However, there are some who have frustrations with the response by law enforcement. Krystal Fraticelli didn’t attend the meeting, but was the ex-wife of Ricardo Villegas, who was shot on Broadway and 12th Streets, a short drive away from the park. His death marked Wasco’s first homicide of 2020, and over a year later, Fraticelli is still waiting for an arrest.
“I feel like [investigators] need to take these victims, not only Ricardo, but the rest of them…and try as hard as they would if it was one of their family members,” Fraticelli said.
Fraticelli says other families she knows feel like no one cares about their loved ones because of their pasts, and the cases go unsolved.
In a statement, KCSO said it takes all homicides very seriously.
“With 2020 being a record high year for homicides, we are using every resource at our disposal to solve all cases and help bring closure to the victims, their families and the community,” Public Information Officer Danielle Kernkamp wrote in an email.
Data compiled by 17 News Homicide Tracker shows Wasco ended 2020 with 8 homicides, a number that includes a prison death and an officer-involved shooting. Arrests have been announced in two cases so far.