The Wisdom of Mark Ward

Longtime Isla Vista Cop Reflects on His Career and the Troubled College Town

<b>FRONT LINE: </b> Mark Ward was one of the first Sheriff’s deputies to test the department’s new body cameras.
Paul Wellman (file)

Known for his cool demeanor and frank personality, Isla Vista Foot Patrol Deputy Mark Ward will retire from the Sheriff’s Office on March 28 ​— ​exactly a week before this year’s Deltopia ​— ​after 27 years of police work. He spent much of that time in the rambunctious college town, with his final stretch on bike patrol.

As a young man, Ward was inspired to go into law enforcement in part because his dad was a sheriff and many of his mom’s friends were cops. “You really have to do it right every time,” Ward said of policing. “Everyone has bad days. You have to get past that. It’s really scary what you have to do every day.”

Scary seems to be the applicable word for Isla Vista right now: Have recent violent incidents just been an unfortunate string of events, or is Isla Vista actually worse off than it was decades ago? Ward is one of the few people in town fit to answer that question. He sat down with The Santa Barbara Independent over a cup of coffee to reflect on his career and the good, the bad, and the ugly of I.V.

Isla Vista has gotten a lot of bad attention in the last year or so. Has it actually gotten worse? In the last two years, it seems like there has been an uptick in people resisting arrest. In the past, when you walked up and had a conversation, it was a friendly thing. It wasn’t a confrontation. That seems to have changed. I’m not sure why. People seemed to be motivated by anger. When I started in police work, if I was involved in a fight, citizens would jump in and help me out. Now they just lift up their phones and yell that I am going to federal prison.

Do you think attitudes toward police have changed since Ferguson? If I had to guess, I would say, “Yes, absolutely.”

But after the Isla Vista murders, appreciation for cops seemed to increase. That went on for three months. And then that went out of memory. I don’t get how I have spent my entire career keeping people from harming themselves, and now that has made me many people’s enemy. After the shooting, people appreciated whatever we did. That’s not the case anymore.

What can be done to improve I.V.? The first thing I’d say [to students] is take responsibility for yourself. Take care of your neighbors. Don’t invite your friends up for a riot. If you screw up, say, “I screwed up,” and don’t do it again.

What about Deltopia this year? I get the sense that a lot of students don’t want to see last year’s nightmare again. Good. I’ll tell you this. Halloween this year [was tame].

Well, it was raining. No, not just that. I talked to a lot of people who not only didn’t invite their friends for Halloween, [they] also stayed away for Halloween.

What can be done to prevent sexual assault in college communities? It’s not the best thing for your personal safety to go out and get so blind drunk you literally can’t speak your native language. Sometimes the response to that is, “You are blaming the victim.” But no, if I get so drunk and want to go play on the freeway, I am going to get hurt.

I think that’s a valid point, but I think some people argue that’s not fair because men can get very drunk often without the same risk. A life-changing moment for me was [when I was talking to] a very smart lady. I said to her, “I just don’t get it. These women get so drunk, and then they get raped. I’m not saying it’s their fault, but my god they have to play a part.” She said here’s the difference: If you and all of your male friends go and get blind drunk, when you wake up the next morning, your butt doesn’t hurt.

And that caused me to change the entire way I looked at stuff. That doesn’t take me off point: You shouldn’t get so screwed up you can’t do anything. A lot of these times the ladies don’t know what happened. They have no clue. It’s dangerous to put yourself in that position; I don’t care what sex you are.


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