The rocky relationship between Isla Vista residents and law enforcement sometimes seems as old as the concept of policing itself. While the friction has improved dramatically over the years — I don’t think anyone believes we’ll ever see another bank burning — both sides still struggle to articulate their perspectives to the other. But starting last month, a few dozen I.V. residents are getting the opportunity to learn what it takes to enforce the law.
The first-ever Citizens Academy for Santa Barbara County college students and Isla Vista residents, put on by the county Sheriff’s Office and the UCSB Police Department, is providing UCSB and SBCC students as well as other I.V. residents a behind-the-scenes experience.
“The reality of [Isla Vista] is that students are basically in charge of this community,” said Isla Vista Community Resources Deputy James McKarrell. “And we felt it was very important to bridge that gap and form a relationship with the community, which is the students.”
The program teaches participants the ins and outs of arrests, firearms, search and seizure, use of force, K-9 operations, and even active shooter training over an eight-week course in March-April. Each three-hour Wednesday session was held at a different location in the county, and culminated April 23 in a graduation ceremony and celebratory barbeque. The Citizens Academy is a structurally similar spin-off of one the Sheriff’s Office has been putting on for the general public for years.
McKarrell, UCSB PD’s Community Resource Sergeant Matt Bowman, and Senior Deputy Dave Valadez, Goleta’s community resource deputy who also organizes South County’s general-public Citizens Academy, are the program’s primary instructors. Depending on a session’s focus and location — the City of Goleta city council chambers, UCSB, a county jail — they are assisted by more specialized law enforcement trainers.
“It was really the result of students’ desire to know more about law enforcement,” Bowman said.
In addition to the need to bridge the gap between the student-dominated community and those who patrol it, a number of factors facilitated the creation of the spin-off program, Bowman and Valadez explained. For one, the media’s recent highlighting of police practice around the country has stirred student interest in how law enforcement operates. The overwhelming interest the greater Santa Barbara area has had in the general-public academy also told them that a student- and Isla Vista-oriented academy would be a logical expansion.
“I think the total applications that we received before we cut it off was 63,” said Valadez. “And we cut it off after four days or five days.”
Other University of California campuses feature similar programs, Bowman said.
“This is a week-in, week-out opportunity to get to know the cadre, the staff — James and Dave and myself — as human beings,” he said. “Because the reality is that every police officer, every deputy is a human being first — who holds a position as a police officer. And this is a good opportunity to remind folks that in addition to the specific things that we do … we’re people just like they are.”
With the proper organizational support, the officers expressed interest in eventually expanding the student-oriented program to both keep up with demand and augment its reach. With the Sheriff’s department serving all the county, however, UCSB would likely need to take over a student-oriented program in order to expand it.
One of the successes, Valadez said, of the original Citizen’s Academy is normal citizens bringing community issues to the attention of law enforcement — issues that they either couldn’t recognize prior to their training or previously hadn’t felt empowered to report. The officers hope this one will enable the same.
“By having that one-on-one connection through the Citizens Academy and the other various committees that we serve on in the Isla Vista community, this is yet again another example of law enforcement partnering with the community to help together solve community issues, rather than one or the other trying to do it independently,” said Bowman.