It is usually a party heard around the world. This year’s infamous Isla Vista Halloween has come and gone. There were the typical scantily clad and over-the-top partygoers, Halloween decorations hanging off balconies and parties on every block; the scene was complete. Well, almost.
In mood and tone, this year was different from Halloweens past. Known for its rowdiness and chaos, Halloween this year was well behaved and low key. Isla Vista law enforcement was everywhere, streets were closed to cars as early as 6:30 p.m. on Halloween night, and music was not to be played past 6 p.m. from the dates of October 26 to November 4. Times have certainly changed.
Every weekend, a great number of Isla Vista residents and out-of-town visitors are arrested and cited, and Halloween weekend is far from an exception. With morethan 700 citations and 300 arrests, this Halloween made me think that I.V. Foot Patrol should pick their battles.
While Isla Vista Foot Patrol certainly makes legitimate arrests, there are many circumstances that could be classified as intrusions into the private lives of individuals, and unwarranted arrests and citations. The Isla Vista Foot Patrol is composed of three separate police agencies: CHP, UCPD, and the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department. Together, they regulate rowdy behavior by handing out nightly citations for such offenses as Minor in Possession, Drunk in Public, Furnishing Alcohol to Minors, and Open Container. These are the most common citations. There are a number of more serious arrests, but the foregoing list contains offenses usually committed by well-meaning students of UCSB or SBCC. And while some students deserve their punishment for misbehaving, there are others that are simply caught as examples.
In a place where everyone in the street is on relatively equal levels of intoxication, how does I.V. Foot Patrol choose who to penalize?
This one-of-a-kind college playground facilitates parties year round. At any given time, a group of students can be seen enjoying such fruits as Isla Vista has to offer. If each person in the group is equally intoxicated, it only takes one false move and an officer calls the individual over to administer a citation. And what seems like a routine ticket in the eyes of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol is, in reality, a severe financial burden, an obstacle to a student’s future, and a heavy disruption in the individual’s personal life. So are citations in I.V. simply given by the roll of a dice, or does each individual actually stand out above the rest and deserve to face the consequences?
Sheriff’s spokesperson Drew Sugars said, in a recent interview, that the I.V. Foot Patrol is not out to get people in trouble. Their mission, he said, is to “make sure that people stay safe.”
“The entire party is crazy,” Sugars said about the annual Halloween revelry. He added that in comparison to past years, “By far, this year’s crowd was very well behaved.” While walking down the streets off Del Playa Drive during this Halloween weekend, Sugars noted that there has been a positive improvement as far as rowdy behavior is concerned. Halloween is not like it used to be and this shift can be traced to law enforcement.
“The majority of arrests and disturbances were caused by visitors,” Sugars commented, based on what he saw. He explained that too many residents invite friends who are ignorant of the laws enforced in Isla Vista. Visitors have unrealistic expectations for an unrestrained wonderland known far and wide as Halloween in Isla Vista. Many get themselves and others into trouble. “If [Halloween] were a local event, it would be much more successful,” Sugars admonished.
In addition to the 700 citations handed out, several medical calls were made throughout the weekend. Alcohol poisoning calls resulted in more than 50 transports to the emergency room at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital. “Drink responsibly; you can die,” Sugars warned. “Getting help is better than worrying about getting your friend in trouble.”
Despite the fact that this year was mellow on the scale of I.V. Halloweens, Sugars said that even if “95 percent of the around 25,000 attendants are doing right, there is five percent, which is more than 1,000 people, that are getting into trouble.” This mere 5 percent has a titanic effect on I.V. Foot Patrol and Santa Barbara County budget alike.
Let’s look at the facts:
This year, the Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury assembled a basic record of the public cost of Halloween in Isla Vista. A reported $700,000 was spent on this massive party in the year of 2008, half of that on law enforcement services such as floodlights, stand-by riot squads, blockades, and the infamous “drunk tanks.”
On top of this staggering sum, the county also must account for citations: Each citation costs nearly $1,000, and with more than 700 citations administered last weekend-you do the math. With the UC Budget crisis and hurting economy, this does not seem like a wise use of public funds.
Upon further research I found that there are alternatives to spending government money and damaging many students’ lives. Downtown Santa Barbara handles things a little differently. There, police officers pick up individuals for public intoxication and transport them to the Santa Barbara Sobering Center. Officers in the City of Santa Barbara may legally bring intoxicated individuals to the center if they establish that the suspect is cooperative and innocent of any other crime.
The center provides offenders with a warm blanket, a chance to sober up, and counseling from the center’s staff. Once sober, the perpetrators are released from the location at 17 East Haley Street, usually leaving with a criminal record as flawless as it was when they entered.
Though provided for in the California State Penal Code in Santa Barbara, this alternative is not granted to Goleta and Isla Vista residents. They are booked into the Santa Barbara County Jail. This booking process is far from easy, and it involves the issuance of a public intoxication misdemeanor charge that can haunt and taint a student’s future for years to come.
The Santa Barbara Sobering Center serves as a drastically more benign “learning lesson,” especially for those who are intoxicated but do not deserve to be booked into jail. This is not to say that those who are brought to the sobering center with an offense such as a DUI will not have those charges filed. However, most people taken to the center are not serious delinquents, and simply need a place to sober up. If alcohol abuse is so prevalent in Isla Vista, why not have a center like this here?
In this city of unsupervised youth, the majority of Isla Vista residents party with harmless intentions. Though it may be difficult for officers not to generalize or assume the worst, is the officer’s duty to protect us, or punish us?
As Mae West, American actress, writer, comedienne, and sex symbol once said:
“It ain’t no sin if you crack a few laws now and then, just so long as you don’t break any.”