BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Governor Gavin Newsom has previously called Kern County, “the murder capital of California.”

Data from 17 News’ Homicide Tracker showed there were 136 confirmed homicides in only 21 ZIP codes in 2021. The most homicides in a single zip code for the year was 36–more than double the second most. Those 36 homicides happened 93307, with 93304 coming in at 15.

“2021 was a tough year,” said Bakersfield City Manager Christian Clegg.

Kern County has 51 ZIP codes. In 2021, every homicide in the county happened in less than half of them.

ZIP codes in Kern County. (This view does not include all ZIP codes and was originally used for Covid-19 cases.)

ZIP code 93307 encompasses stretches from the edges of East Bakersfield out to Edison, goes south excluding Lamont and tapers off all the way down to Mettler.

The 93304 code includes the area east of Highway 99 south of California Avenue and tapers off to the West until it reaches Panama Lane in Bakersfield.

This graph shows the number of homicides in those 21 ZIP codes:

ZIP codes 93280 and 93309 had 11 homicides. ZIP code 93280 consists of Wasco, Semitropic, Neufeld, Palmo and stretches north to Garces Highway and west to the Kern Wildlife Refuge. The 93309 code encompasses the area south of the Kern River between Gosford Road and Highway 99 down to White Lane.

ZIP codes including 93203, 93215, 93280, 93301, 93305, 93306 and 93308 all had more than five but less than 10 homicides throughout the year, with some ZIP codes in Bakersfield registering with zero homicides all year including, but not limited to several in northwest Bakersfield.

The only case with the cause of death undetermined is that of Stephanie Ashley Bonilla, 24, of Los Angeles. Over a three-month period, parts of Bonilla’s body were found in multiple locations in the Kern Desert along Aerospace Highway in Rosamond.

Data shows 105 homicides, about 77 percent, involved guns, including all fatal officer-involved shootings and four of the five murder-suicides.

Clegg said about one-third of gun-related homicides are due to gang activity and for the most part are located in particular geographies.

“It’s fair to say that when there are some homicides that are gang-related and certain groups or gangs are more active in a particular area,” Clegg said.

Clegg said there are many underlying factors that make a certain neighborhood vulnerable to gang activity including greater opportunities for education, jobs or higher quality housing, but no specific studies have been done in Bakersfield to show a direct correlation between those factors and gang activity.

Bakersfield Police Department Assistant Chief Brent Stratton added that the prominence of ghost guns has made it easier on criminals to get their hands on illegal firearms.

“Anecdotally, within the last several years, the vast majority were stolen from legal owners,” Stratton said.

But ghost guns, he said, have the ability to be made and sold in a black market-type transaction on the street.

“They are not serialized, they don’t go through a registration process and can be made in a garage and sold on the street with the potential to be much more dangerous,” Stratton said.

Clegg said the city is working to address the roots of gang activity to try and prevent it in the future with initiatives like the CalVIP program, funded with Measure N money, which was started about one year ago.

CalVIP uses evidence-informed data to identify those who are at highest risk to gun violence, especially if they are potentially living a life that could lead to gang activity. Clegg said the goal is to implement prevention for those people and enforcement on those who are already active in gun violence.

“We are working to get that up and implemented as quickly as possible,” Clegg said.

Stratton added that while gun-related homicides have been up, arrests related to gang members with illegal firearms have been up too.

“Because of CALVIP, we have been looking at data to focus the resources on those specifically at risk to gun violence,” Stratton said.

So far, there have been 31 homicides in 2022.

This graph shows the breakdown per ZIP code:

Clegg said it’s also important to note that while homicides increased in 2021, Kern County’s population has increased as well.

“As we grow it makes sense to a certain extent that crime numbers go up with it,” Clegg said. “I think, per capita—Bakersfield is still a safe place to live.”