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California and the West | California Album

No Treat for Deputies

Holiday: Sheriff's Department braces for Halloween revelry in Isla Vista, a party magnet for the day. But some call officers overzealous.

October 22, 2000|SALLY ANN CONNELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ISLA VISTA — The cat and mouse game has gone on for decades: On Friday and Saturday nights, students line up at liquor stores to buy kegs of beer and bottles of rum and Coke, just as deputies report to a neighborhood substation, ready to make arrests and write citations.

Around Halloween things get especially scary in this overcrowded community next to UC Santa Barbara. Like Huntington Beach on the Fourth of July or Palm Springs during spring break, Isla Vista has become a regional magnet for rowdy revelers drawn for the day. And those who get in the worst trouble are usually from out of town, authorities say.

"Halloween in Isla Vista is the single biggest operation we have in Santa Barbara County," said Sheriff's Lt. Butch Arnoldi, the Isla Vista substation commander. "The entire Sheriff's Department gets redeployed here."

This year, deputies have been cracking down particularly early and hard as they worry about large street crowds. More than 100 officers will be on duty, starting next weekend. Halloween is the following Tuesday.

During last year's celebrations, deputies recorded 341 arrests and citations, twice as many as the year before, although still fewer than in the record-setting early 1990s, when 900 to 1,100 incidents were routine.

But there seems to be an upward trend: In the first six weekends of this school year, deputies have issued 767 criminal citations and made 300 arrests, figures also considerably higher than in recent years.

"We can't tolerate anything getting out of control this early, or it will be out of control for the entire school year," said Arnoldi. He heads the Isla Vista Foot Patrol, which includes deputies, university police and the California Highway Patrol.

On the same majestic bluffs as the university, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, "IV"--as it is known by locals--is a square-mile assortment of apartments and duplexes with 20,000 residents. About 9,500 are UC Santa Barbara students, and 1,500 attend Santa Barbara City College; students usually pay $420 to $500 to share a bedroom.

"I don't think you are going to find that concentrated and isolated of a student population near any other campus in California," said the university's dean of students, Yonie Harris.

"It's a truly challenging situation," said Harris, who lived in Isla Vista for 25 years. "There is such a concentration of young adults who have a one-world view. We try to get them to realize that, while there can't be laws just for IV, the laws of the state can't be ignored in IV."

Many of the hottest parties take place on oceanfront Del Playa Drive, where students often dance in the streets to live bands. MTV has broadcast large events from Del Playa, and the street can be ankle deep in beer cups come Monday morning.

Arnoldi's crew walks Del Playa arresting drunks and writing up anybody with an open container, any minor in possession of alcohol and anybody urinating in public. The noise ordinance requires that all loud music be turned off at midnight, and the deputies will shut down parties with more than 500 revelers if they don't have county festival permits.

Some students call deputies overzealous.

"The police presence here is really overdone," said Matt Morgan, fund-raising chairman for the fraternity Beta Theta Pi. "The police will actually say things like, 'We're watching you. Throw another party, and we'll make your life a living hell.' "

Chris Sheldon, 22, and Quint Carter, 21, are roommates in a four-student apartment overlooking Del Playa. They say they have been cited for noise violations.

"One thing about this town," Sheldon said, "you give a party, and it's a free-for-all."

Arnoldi said most of the serious arrests, particularly for sexual assault, are of people from outside Isla Vista. Statistics show that white males make up the vast majority of those arrested or cited. Women's arrests tend to be for alcohol offenses.

There were 17 sex-related offenses in Isla Vista in the last school year, though Arnoldi said university officials and his department believe that such crimes are underreported. There were also 131 other physical assaults.

"We don't view these young men and women as just some drunk kids," Arnoldi said. "We view them as potential victims. The young women can get sexually assaulted, and the young men get beat up."

Deputies must also deal with unusual problems, such as a recent spate of couch burnings. One group of revelers will move a couch out into the street so they can sit, and another group will burn it. On Sept. 15, deputies discovered, beneath a heap of trash on a couch, a 19-year-old unconscious male student.

"His buddies stripped him naked, covered him with garbage and urinated all over him. He had a blood [alcohol] level of .38, when .42 will kill you. He was in a coma," said Arnoldi of the student, who survived. "He's lucky somebody didn't set the couch on fire."

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