Monday, December 5, 2016

[Kern County] Grand Jury report praises Teen Court, makes no recs for city

Ridgecrest feels neglected by Kern County, but the city's Teen Court has an exemplary approach to combating youthful criminal activity. Overall the city appeared to get a clean bill of health, with no recommendations for improvement.
This is the upshot from the Kern County Grand Jury report on the city of Ridgecrest, based on an Oct. 4 visit.
Under the comments section, the report notes that “[d]ue to their location in the extreme northeast corner of Kern County, the City feels somewhat neglected by County Government.”
“I think there may be some people who do feel neglected by Kern County and I think most of it comes back to the funding issues,” Mayor Peggy Breeden said Thursday. “Issues with the jail and those kind of things. We are working on it, that is the biggest part. But we have to have action with the talk.”
Breeden said that the issue is not limited to Ridgecrest, given Kern County's well-known budget challenges. “I can't imagine anyone in Kern County saying 'we're getting everything we want.'
“I don't think that we [Ridgecrest] are that unique. That's not defending the county, but we have to understand the limitations and find ways of fulfilling each other's needs.”
Another comment in the report is more upbeat, stating that “[t]he city of Ridgecrest is a leader in efforts to combat youth criminal activity. Other cities should emulate their efforts using by using a similar approach.”
The commendation is based on findings of the Grand Jury regarding the Teen Court. The report summarizes the role of Teen Court as follows: It is funded by the city and staffed by the city and by volunteers. Elementary school and middle school aged youth are held accountable for misdemeanor offenses. Youth are given the opportunity to complete certain steps to avoid being charged. If they successfully pay a fine for any destruction, perform community service and sit as a juror on a similar case they can avoid being charged for their offenses. “Teen Court has proven to be extremely successful in addressing juvenile crime,” according to the report.
Ridgecrest Police Chief Ron Strand attributes the success of the Teen Court program to Theresa Cook, who runs the program, as well as the many volunteers who make the program work. Strand listed volunteer judges, PACT volunteers, reserve officers and explorers as all contributing to the effort. Also critical to the program’s success, according to Strand, is the School Resource Officer Program. This is “run on a day to day basis by Officer [Elizabeth] Franco and Officer [Eddie] Hamilton. It is truly their work that makes this whole juvenile justice crime prevention effort work,” he said.
City Background
The report gives historical background for the city. Ridgecrest was incorporated in 1963, largely to support the mission of the Navy. The Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake/Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division continues to be the major employer for city residents.
Ridgecrest is the only incorporated community in the Indian Wells Valley and has a population of roughly 28,348.
The city is served by a wastewater treatment plant constructed by the Navy and operated and maintained by the city. The facility also provides service to NAWS. According to the report, the city contributes 70 percent of the influent processed by the facility and the Navy contributes 30 percent.
The report also mentions that the city's Parks and Recreation Department is planning to implement a smart irrigation system to conserve water, presumably early next year.
According to the report, the Ridgecrest Police Department has 32 full-time officers and 51 staff members total. RPD has a 24-hour dispatch center and operates the local animal control shelter.
The Grand Jury committee was informed on the date of their visit about the closure of the Kern County Sheriff's Jail Facility, according to the report. “With the closing of the Kern County Sheriff's Jail in Ridgecrest, all felony arrestees are now transported to the Mojave Substation and/or the Central Receiving Facility in Bakersfield,” according to the report.
The report also includes the finding that “[w]ith approval of the City Council, monies can be loaned from the Waste Water Fund to other City entities.” It also notes the history of .75 percent sales tax Measure L. The final finding is that the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for fiscal year ending June 30, 2015 passed an audit with an independent auditing firm.
Under the section titled “RECOMMENDATIONS” the report states “None.”
December 2, 2016
The Siskiyou Daily News
By Jessica Weston

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