Wasco roundtable addresses rise in crime
January 7, 2021 | View PDF
Fresh on the heels of the second homicide in the city in a one-week period, a roundtable discussion was held to address the issue.
Hosted by council members Tilo Cortez and Vincent Martinez, the Zoom meeting had over 20 people in attendance including community members Hector Moreno, Orquida Ocampo, Elizabeth Maartinez and Tracy Clendanan of the Orange Hearts Foundation.
Martinez, who is a former sheriff’s deputy with the Kern County Sheriff’s Department, gave the group an update on the cases in question and what law enforcement officials are saying.
“In both shootings, law enforcement officials believe that they are gang related,” said Martinez. “With the way the shooting was done, it appears that it was a gang hit.”
In recent years, the violence has escalated in the city, which has residents very concerned and frightened about the future of Wasco.
Martinez said that one main reason that is given for the uptick in violent crime in town is the lenient policies in place when it comes to arresting individuals and how they are sentenced. Martinez gave an example of one of the suspected shooters.
“The suspected shooter in one of the recent instances has a history of several arrests, including drug and weapon charges. If this individual was still incarcerated, he would not have had the chance to shoot anyone.”
He also said that the Wasco State Prison is a big reason for the increase in violence. With the passage of recent measures, almost a third of the prison population has been released early. These individuals are setting up camp in Wasco, instead of being in prison, or going back to the counties in which they had been living before being sent to prison.
Several of the participants were concerned with the need for a stronger police presence in Wasco, with more officers patrolling and patrolling in the right places.
Avila said, “I can see a couple of officers hanging out in the parking lot of a business, instead of talking and being stationed at a more appropriate place, like in a street that is known for drugs, or violence.”
The decades-old issue came up once again about whether it is feasible for Wasco to have its own police department.
Cortez said, “We have visited this possibility in the past, and studied what the cost would be, and we decided that at the time, it was not feasible to have our own police department, taking in consideration the annual cost of operating, and the start-up cost that it entails.”
“I love Wasco, and it seems that we are losing our city. We need to take our city back. We need to stand up and fight for our neighborhoods,” said Elizabeth Martinez.
Moreno had a similar sentiment.
“We used to be able to walk down any street, not worrying about what part of town you were in, or what time of day or night it was,” said Moreno. “Now, our kids are being taken from us, either by being drawn into a criminal lifestyle, or not listening to the right people in their life.”
He also blamed a large part also on the lack of a male role model for children.
“Kids are being raised with no positive male role models in their lives. They are not seeing anyone to look up to, or to emulate. The male influences they have in their lives are leading them into a life of destruction,” he said.
Vincent Martinez also said as of last year, the Kern County Sheriff’s Department has no Gang Task Unit anymore. They don’t have officers dedicated to stopping the gang crime and there is no one sufficiently tracking the gangs and their members.
In conclusion, Cortez said, we as a city are going to have to take our neighborhoods back. He said that he believes it should start with the park on 15th Street.
“Even if it is people walking the street, or getting more officers here, we need to do something and this is a great start,” he said.