In the words of its highest-ranking law enforcement officer, Lt. Brian Olmstead, Isla Vista is “not like your normal community.”
Three-quarters of a square mile in size, yet home to the majority of the South County’s alcohol-related arrests, Isla Vista may very well appear to be a cop’s nightmare. Add UCSB’s rowdy reputation and the legacy of I.V.’s Halloween, and the position of Isla Vista’s top cop may not sound very appealing.
However, Olmstead – the Isla Vista Foot Patrol’s newest ranking officer – said he requested the position.
Nonetheless, the task in front of him is not simple. Isla Vista residents have a tendency to engage in some high-risk activities and more often than not, alcohol is the underlying factor, Olmstead said. While lowering the amount of irresponsible alcohol consumption has and will remain a strong focus of the IVFP, Olmstead said safety is always their number one concern.
“I think it all comes down to safety,” Olmstead said. “We’ve seen people go over the cliffs because of alcohol use. We’ve seen at least one murder from an alcohol-induced fight. What I would really like to see is the alcohol use lowered to a responsible level.”
Crime in Isla Vista is not limited to drug and alcohol violations. According to Olmstead, over 20 percent of the serious felonies in the county happen in Isla Vista. In light of such serious crimes, Olmstead said some have questioned the IVFP’s priorities, but that it all ultimately comes back to alcohol.
“Students ask why we are looking so much at alcohol when there are sexual assaults and violent crimes happening, but what people don’t understand is that with most of those crimes, alcohol is a factor,” Olmstead said. “The vast majority of crime [in I.V.] – 90 percent – is all driven by alcohol. That’s why cutting down on the irresponsible use of alcohol is such a major focus of ours.”
Olmstead took over as the Foot Patrol’s ranking member in November, but his biggest test still looms ahead. This year Halloween falls on a Friday, meaning the number of party-hungry out-of-towners could be huge. While Olmstead said the Sheriff’s Dept. will be ready to handle whatever comes, he also said he would ultimately like to see Halloween as a community event.
“The Sheriff’s Dept. and a majority of the community would like to see [Halloween] as a local event,” Olmstead said. “How we do that, we haven’t really figured out.”
Olmstead said that the IVFP, along with the 200 other law enforcement officers that assist each year, will continue to try and make the event safer, but that he is opposed to some of the more radical measures proposed, such as restricting access to cars.
“The biggest thing with restricting cars in all of I.V. is then ‘Where do you put the cars?’ All of a sudden you’re placing thousands of cars into Goleta, which doesn’t even benefit from Halloween,” Olmstead said.
In addition to having a new lieutenant, the IVFP will soon have a new place to call home. The new police sub-station currently being built on Trigo Road – next to I.V. Theater – promises a larger working area, temporary holding cells and room to expand if needed. At this time, no expansion is planned.
“For the 30 years [IVFP has] been in Isla Vista, we’ve never had a permanent home,” Olmstead said. “We have been renting places that were never designated for law enforcement, but we finally got to design a place that will help us be able to serve the community better.”
With the construction of a new station in progress, individuals such as 3rd District Supervisor candidate Dr. Dave Bearman have asked why the Sheriff’s Dept. does not also build a sobering center in I.V. Sobering centers – such as the one located in Santa Barbara – allow the police to drop intoxicated individuals off and let them sober up in a secure environment without sending them to jail.
According to Olmstead, the issue comes down to cost. He said it simply is not cost-effective to have a sobering center in I.V.
“The reason Santa Barbara went to a sobering station is cost,” Olmstead said. “The city has to pay booking fees every time they arrest someone and the costs worked out for them. The jail is in our jurisdiction and is a safer place to monitor intoxicated people. The logistics and cost are better for us here [than Santa Barbara] so we don’t need the sobering center.”
Olmstead, who has served the Santa Barbara community as a police officer for the last 18 years, said as lieutenant he hopes to make Isla Vista a better and safer place to live. For Olmstead, education and communication are both key aspects of this, but he said the strict enforcement will always be there.
“The enforcement is always going to be steady,” Olmstead said. “We have to set a limit on what people can do. If we allow the enforcement to go down, as we’ve seen before, the crime goes up. So the strict enforcement will always be there.”