Newsom sent CHP officers to fight crime in Oakland. Now he's sending them to Bakersfield

BAKERSFIELD, CA - OCTOBER 03: View of downtown Bakersfield. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy who is from this Central Valley city was voted out of office in a historic vote on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
A view of downtown Bakersfield. Gov. Newsom is sending Highway Patrol officers to Bakersfield as an expansion of a law enforcement campaign launched earlier this year. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that he's sending California Highway Patrol officers to Bakersfield, an expansion of a law enforcement campaign launched this year in an effort to tamp down crime in hard-hit California cities.

Kern County, home to Bakersfield, has higher rates of violent and property crime and more arrests compared with the statewide average, crime statistics show. The CHP officers will focus on reducing car theft, retail crime and bolstering traffic enforcement, which have been pressing issues in the region in the last several years, officials say.

“We are working hand-in-hand with our local law enforcement partners to increase police operations, stop crime and keep the Central Valley safe," Newsom said in a statement Wednesday. "This partnership builds on our statewide efforts to take down criminal networks, stop dangerous individuals, and make our communities safer for all Californians.”

News of the expanded program comes on the heels of a similar effort in Oakland this year. In February, Newsom sent 120 Highway Patrol officers to the Bay Area city to tackle an uptick in violent crime and theft.

Read more: Newsom to send 120 CHP officers to fight crime in Oakland

Rising crime in recent years has been a source of intense political pressure for Democrats in California and has bolstered criticism of the state's criminal justice policies. A Public Policy Institute of California poll released in February listed crime as one of the top issues that Californians want the Legislature and governor to address this year.

In Bakersfield, the most populous city in the county, homicide rates climbed 36% between 2020 and 2021, reaching a peak of 60 murders in 2021. The number dropped to 37 in 2023, but homicides in the city remained about 50% higher than they were a decade ago, according to statewide crime data.

Car thefts have climbed nearly 67% between 2019 and 2022. Commercial robberies have also been on the rise in the last decade, statistics show.

It is not clear how many CHP officers will be sent to Bakersfield. The number will depend on the need from local police agencies, assisting with tasks including day-to-day enforcement and larger coordinated operations, according to the governor's office.

State officials have applauded the program's results in the Bay Area. There California Highway Patrol officers have arrested 168 suspects linked to gangs, organized crime and carjacking rings. They recovered 360 stolen vehicles and seized 16 firearms linked to crimes, Newsom said last month.

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao called the program a "strong partnership" and "an example of good government at work."

Read more: Signatures roll in for tough-on-crime ballot measure to reform California's Proposition 47

The boost in law enforcement personnel comes amid other crime-reduction efforts underway in the Central Valley.

This month the city of Bakersfield gave a $50,000 grant to the Downtown Business Assn. to fund a six-month contract for private security in the downtown area to combat theft, vandalism and break-ins.

“Security is super important," Alan Alvarez, vice chair of the Downtown Business Assn., told KERO-TV this month. "We want people to come downtown and feel a sense of security, and not have to worry about some issues that we’ve experienced."

In late 2023, the state gave the Bakersfield Police Department $6.2 million to prevent and respond to organized retail, car and cargo theft. The city's police chief said at the time that the money would go toward staffing, equipment and training for the department's investigative unit that specializes in retail theft.

“Public safety remains a top priority for Bakersfield residents. This partnership underscores our commitment to ensuring the safety and security of our residents,” Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh said in a prepared statement. "By combining resources and expertise, we are enhancing law enforcement capabilities and creating a safe community."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.