2020 marked the sixth full year of Homicide Tracker, our on-going analysis of violent death in Kern County
Homicide Tracker is part of KGET’s crusade for justice through data-driven journalism.
It springs from a simple premise: Every murder victim deserves a eulogy that reminds us he or she was someone’s son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister.
Other stories take a broad view that illustrates the scope of the problem: Since the year 2000, more than 1,600 Kern County residents have been victims of homicide. Most of those cases are unsolved, meaning hundreds of murderers walk among us.
Homicide victims include murderers killed in their prison cells by other murderers. It includes gangsters killed while trying to kill other gangsters. It includes would-be killers shot down by police officers protecting the public.
But it also includes the innocent. It includes children killed by their parents and parents killed by their children. It includes 90-year-old widows stabbed to death in their own homes and unborn children shot to death in the womb.
Homicide Tracker proves what might be expected: Murder hits every age group, every income sector and every corner of the county, but is concentrated on young men in the poorer parts of town.
Our study also continues to produce some less-expected statistics.
African-Americans, who make up less than 6 percent of Kern’s population, make up 20 percent of homicide victims. On a per capita basis, black Kern residents are 3.45 times more likely to be homicide victims than the population as a whole.
The Tracker uses the Kern County Coroner’s Office definition of homicide, which includes justifiable homicide. In 2020, 11 percent of Kern’s homicides were fatal officer-involved shootings, all of which were ruled justifiable.
Countywide, about 60 percent of homicides remain unsolved but that number is much higher in some smaller cities.
If that figure is typical, it means nearly a thousand cases remain unsolved since 2000. It means hundreds of families have gone without justice and hundreds of killers have gone unpunished.
Most homicides happen in the county’s poorest ZIP codes. In 2020, the Delano ZIP of 93215 had 13 homicides. Bakersfield’s 93307 had 21 homicides and 93304 had 18. Violent death is much less frequent in more affluent ZIPs and, Homicide Tracker analysis shows, most of the killings there are the result of domestic violence.
Homicide happens about every 65 hours in Kern, but no one really tracks the bloody trail of grief that intentional death leaves in our county. The Coroner’s Office tracks the totals, Bakersfield Police knows the status of homicide within the city limits and the Sheriff’s Office has jurisdiction over out-of-town killings. The status of prosecutions is available on the Superior Court website.
There hasn’t been any place where all the information has been pulled together in a single user-friendly format and made available to the general public.
We try to follow each case. We try to provide panorama coverage to a huge issue that usually is reported only in snapshots.