The Tehachapi Police Department is actively looking for ways to combat all forms of crime and homelessness, and hopes the public will take action to help reduce increasing crime rates in the city.
“We are transitioning as a community,” Tehachapi Police Chief Kent Kroeger said at the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday.
He added, “We are accustomed to leaving our doors unlocked at night, not locking our cars. ... And I get that. I wish we were still there. Unfortunately we are not there. The community has changed.”
The crime rate declined from 2014 to 2017. However, for the entire year in 2018, there was a 20 percent increase, or five extra crimes per month, said Kroeger.
The crime is still rising.
“We move into 2019 and I’m looking at roughly about a 4 percent increase this year,” Kroeger said.
He added, “When I started looking and doing my crime analysis and looking at everything that is going on, the first thing I looked at is: What types of crimes are we seeing these increases? For the most part everything that we saw was larceny and auto theft. That’s where our biggest increases were.”
Reports by the department show that larceny rose by 48 percent from 2018 to 2019 and auto theft rose by 35 percent from 2017 to 2018.
So far this year, Tehachapi Police have made 575 arrests. Out of those numbers, 89 people are repeat offenders accounting for 324 arrests, or 58 percent of the total arrests, said Kroeger.
He added that the department is arresting violators, rather than just issuing a citation, to help combat crime.
Laws in California have changed, making some crimes that used to be felonies only misdemeanors.
Proposition 47, passed by voters in 2014, reclassified some theft and drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.
“The state decided they were no longer serious crimes and we were going to take a less commutative approach to those things and start putting these people back on the streets instead of incarcerating them,” said Kroeger.
He added, "To me there is just something fundamentally wrong with me having to issue someone a citation and release them on the spot for the procession of heroin or the procession of methamphetamine.”
Voters will have the chance to change some of these laws in 2020, he said.
The level of crime is also intertwined with homelessness; how many people are unsheltered also varies with the seasons.
To prevent crime, parks are closed at night. If a homeless person is removed from an area, a bed needs to be provided, said Kroeger.
The department is implementing community outreach programs to help prevent crime north of the railroad tracks. Neighborhood Watch, Business Watch and cleanup programs have helped reduce crime.
“The idea is to move this program and eventually touch every neighborhood within the city and in hopes that it's going to have some type of impact to this little blimp on the crime stats,” Kroeger said.
Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce President Ida Perkins asked about the steps that can be taken to prevent any break-ins.
Nighttime lighting, reporting a crime and locking doors were encouraged.
She added, "I think that yourself and your department do an outstanding job in Tehachapi and your crew really pulled together for Mountain Festival."