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Kroeger at Kiwanis: Same offenders commit 56% of arrests

Kiwanis Club of Tehachapi

In analyzing recent crime statistics, Tehachapi Police Chief Kent Kroeger discovered that chronic offenders accounted for more than half of all arrests in Tehachapi in 2019.

Of the 575 arrests in Tehachapi in 2019, he said, 89 people had accumulated 324 arrests, or 56.3 percent of the total.

"Some had 10 or more arrests, some as many as 13 in this one year," he told the Kiwanis Club of Tehachapi at its Wednesday, Jan. 22 luncheon meeting at the Gold Mountain Sports Tavern.

The year 2017 had record low crime statistics in the city, he said.

"In 2018, something happened. There was a 20 percent overall increase in Part I crimes, with the most significant increase in auto thefts, which went from 37 total auto thefts in 2017 to 50 in 2018. Part I crimes are the more serious offenses.

In 2019, violent crimes dropped but the total number of larceny crimes increased from 157 in 2018 to 246 in 2019, up 57 percent. Those arrests included retail theft, shoplifting and thefts from vehicles.

"There were 246 larcenies [not arrests] in 2019," Kroeger said. "Compare that to 304 total Part I crimes in 2017."

Between 2014 and 2016, he said, the state of California recorded the second highest increase in theft and property crimes in the nation.

"Why? What is driving this?" Kroeger wanted to know.

The answer, he said, can be linked to California law – Propositions 47 and 57 – that were intended to bring equity to the criminal justice and incarceration system.

"Under recent changes in California law, individuals can steal repeatedly with no consequences," Kroeger said.

In 2014, Prop 47 reclassified numerous felonies into misdemeanors. The law increased the dollar threshold for theft to be considered a felony from $450 to $950. That is, a person can walk out of a store with $950 worth of goods with almost total impunity.

"Now I have to give them a ticket and release them right there," Kroeger said. "There are zero consequences."

There are organized retail theft rings working up and down the freeway, he said.

"They steal what they need to steal, and they're gone."

The penalty for possession of drugs – meth, cocaine, heroin – is a ticket.

Kroeger said that on one occasion last year, a person was caught stealing several hundred dollars worth of goods from Kmart, and police found a ticket in his pocket issued two hours earlier in Ridgecrest for possession of heroin.

Before Prop 47, possession of such drugs was a felony.

"Prior to the reclassification of drug offenses pursuant to Proposition 47, this offender would have been incarcerated for the possession of heroin in Ridgecrest and would not have been released on a citation and therefore would have been unable to commit the theft at our Kmart," Kroeger said.

An effort to redress some of the more egregious consequences of the current law (which does not classify as violent felonies the rape of an unconscious person, trafficking a child for sex, assault of a police officer and felony domestic violence), a coalition of organizations have put forth the "Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2020," that will be on the Nov. 3 ballot.

In other crime notes, Kroeger said that Walmart, with its loss prevention measures and monitoring by the staff, has a low percentage of theft.

Regarding scams – many of them aimed at older citizens – Kroeger said, "Most everything over the phone attempting to gather personal identifying information, banking or credit card information is likely a scam." The "grandmother scam," in which a perpetrator pretends to be a grandchild in distress, is often the result of the scammer gleaning information from social media accounts that show children and their names.

Kroeger said to be sure your social media accounts are private and locked down.

"Set the privacy settings on your social media accounts so that only people you know can access your posts and photos. Scammers search Facebook, Instagram and other social networks for family information they can use to fool you.

All in all, he said, "We have a very safe city."

He said the Police Department is working hard with local retailers to address the increase in larcenies. Additionally, the Neighborhood Improvement Project provides services with a community-oriented policing approach, the Police Department partnering with residents to identify problems and formulate solutions. The program started in June 2019 in a neighborhood north of the tracks.

The Tehachapi Kiwanis CLUB meets every Wednesday at noon at the Gold Mountain Sports Tavern, 20601 Hwy. 202. Guests are always welcome. The 2020 Stars and Stripes Kiwanis Flag Project begins on Presidents Day, Feb. 17. Call (661) 822-4515 if you live within the Tehachapi city limits and want a beautiful American flag placed in your front yard on six patriotic holidays. The fee is $50.