Grand Jury Investigates Isla Vista Halloween

Information Sought About the Event's Cost to Santa Barbara County

Every Halloween, tens of thousands of mostly college aged kids descend upon Isla Vista to partake in the weekend-long festivities. Some of the costumes are creative, most leave little to the imagination, and the number of people wearing law enforcement uniforms – real ones – is immense, so much so that the Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury decided to compile an informational report outlining for the public the cost of the huge party. “This past year, we felt that the grand jury should write an activity report,” said foreman Ted Sten, explaining that they found the cost of the 50,000-person spectacle to be in the neighborhood of $700,000 in 2008. $432,000 was required for law enforcement services alone, which included 300 uniformed officers, portable flood lights, a standby riot squad, and an anti-riot vehicle called “the bear.”

In accordance with authority given to the grand jury by sections 925 and 928 of the California Penal Code, Sten said that a few of its 19 members make annual site visits to Isla Vista’s Halloween celebration. “We’re not interested in the party,” he said. “We’re more interested in what it takes to maintain control of what could be a very serious situation.” Organization of the massive street party is somewhat nebulous, and permits aren’t required – something he said makes it difficult for authorities to hold any person or entity accountable.

During Isla Vista's annual Halloween celebration, copious amounts of alcohol plays a large part in the festivities, and in the law enforcement angle.
Ben Preston

A significant facet of the report touched upon by the grand jury is that an overwhelming majority of the arrests, citations, and medical transports last year were administered to people who did not attend either UCSB or Santa Barbara City College. Of the 438 citations, only 30 were Santa Barbara students, and only 27 of the 220 arrests – most of which were for public intoxication – were of students from the two area schools. Fifty-five medical transports were required, a number that may have been reduced due to an on-site medical triage center designed to reduce the already high load being placed upon the eight bed emergency room at nearby Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital.

While the report is fairly detailed about the cost, number of arrests, citations, and medical transports, and types of personnel required for the event, there is no mention of revenue raised by the citations, although it does commend law enforcement personnel for making the event a relatively safe one. Sten said that because there were inevitably different kinds of citations issued, it would be difficult to determine how much money the county raked in without going through documentation for each of the 658 incidents individually.

Because the grand jury compiles some ten to 12 full-length reports every year, Sten said this one is not as comprehensive and is meant to supply information as opposed to one that would make recommendations solicit a response from the county. Quite simply, the issue didn’t make the list this time around, but was something the group decided was worthy of investigation, if only to alert people as to the numbers involved. “The grand jury is anxious to bring to the attention of the public the logistics of dealing with this large a crowd of people,” he said, adding that any action taken on the matter will have to be at the initiative of decision-making bodies. “We hope agencies and citizens will find the information helpful.


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