“There are so many drunk people here, I don’t know why you chose us.”
Despite the truth underlining this drunken reasoning – there are armies of drunken partiers marching down the street just a few feet away – this intoxicated 19-year-old Santa Barbara City College student isn’t talking his way out of the alcohol citation coming his way.
With a zero-tolerance policy backing his actions, Sgt. Erik Raney of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol is quick to hand out his fifth M.I.P. – minor in possession of alcohol – of the night…
Later, he says, “It’s just another night on the job.”
A Mass Migration
It’s a brisk summer night and the clocks are striking ten. All around, 18 to 22-year-olds are making their way towards the ocean – specifically, toward Isla Vista’s notorious Del Playa Drive. Even a few blocks away from I.V.’s main drag, the faint buzz of speakers can be heard.
But first, a cup of coffee. It’s the last Friday of summer for anyone attending Santa Barbara City College, and the sergeant and his accompanying officer know that tonight is going to be a long one.
Isla Vista, UCSB’s crowded, pint-sized college town is often – and falsely – called the most densely populated neighborhood on the West Coast. Its reputation for debauchery, however, is much more quantifiable: With only approximately 10 percent of the county’s total population, I.V. accounts for roughly 20 percent of serious crimes committed – the vast majority of which are linked to alcohol use.
According to Sgt. Raney, curbing the use of alcohol is at the heart of what the IVFP does.
“If we can control the alcohol, we can help mitigate the serious crimes and accidents [so prominent in I.V.],” Raney says.
The quick jerk of the man’s hand toward his back pocket immediately catches the attention of the patrolling officers. He might as well have just walked up and told the cops he was doing something illegal.
It’s 10:55 p.m. and Sgt. Raney asks the man what he just put in his back pocket. Unfortunately for this second year SBCC student, playing dumb is not going to work. Sgt. Raney suspects it may be a bag of cocaine he stuffed into his pocket (an automatic arrest), so he places the man in handcuffs and asks him again, “What’s in your pocket?”
Seeing that there is no way out, the man confesses, “A gram of marijuana.”
The handcuffs are removed and he is told to sit on the curb. Sgt. Raney writes out the citation for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, a misdemeanor offense that’s going to cost the toker a little more than $100.
Trying to make light of the situation, the young man tells the officers he doesn’t even have a pipe to smoke his recently purchased weed.
“I just figured I’d pick that up later,” he says.
A Captain’s Tale
“I don’t think that’s legal,” yells a reveler socializing in front of a party on oceanside Del Playa Drive. “That’s private property!”
The sheriff pays him no mind and continues down the side alley, making his way toward the balcony jutting precariously out over the Pacific Ocean.
“Even if it is private property, if it’s an open party or can be viewed from the street, we have the right to enter,” Sgt. Raney says as he passes onto the property.
There, unaware of his imminent arrival, are five underage drinkers enjoying the sound of the waves and the comforting warmth of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum. There are not many places where college students have it so good, but with the pros come the cons.
It doesn’t take the officers long to determine that none of the revelers are of age. However, some insist on trying to talk their way out of it, swearing that the half-drunk beers that sit directly between their feet are not theirs.
Caught red-handed, however, nobody is getting out of it. All five watch as their Minor in Possessions – the most common of citations according to Sgt. Raney – are written out and their booze is poured onto the ground.
One, however, is adamant about talking his way out trouble, insisting he is a good guy and that he isn’t drunk at all. Sgt. Raney agrees he is no doubt a good guy, but keeps filling out the paperwork.
With the yellow citation in hand – an approximate $150 ticket plus the cost of the drug awareness classes most opt for – the young man changes gears and tries to salvage what is left of the night.
“If you were honestly cool cops, you’d let me drink that beer right now,” the 19-year-old says, referring to the nearly full forty of Miller Genuine Draft sitting at his feet. Without uttering a word, the accompanying officer picks up the beer and pours it out onto the cement.
May I Recommend a Bush?
There are a definite drawbacks to heavy drinking (a killer hangover, a bad decision or two, not remembering if you made a bad decision or two) but few are more prevalent – or urgent – than the need to urinate.
And sometimes, you just can’t find that necessary toilet.
If this is the case, a trip into one of Isla Vista’s many parks could be an (illegal) necessity, but pissing on the side of building in view of the street is never a good idea.
It’s 12:50 a.m. and Sgt. Raney catches a glimpse of a man making just that mistake.
Upon noticing the sheriff, he instinctively grabs his phone and makes like he was busy texting, only his phone is locked and the screen remains blank.
The man is asked to sit on the curb, and while the officer is filling out the citation, a resident of the apartment comes out to vouch for the man.
“He’s one of my very good friends,” she tells Sgt. Raney.
“Did he have permission to pee on the side of your apartment?” Raney asks with a slight smile, but receives no answer.
The man is cited for breaking a county ordinance, the lesser of two possible citations. Had he been especially rude, Raney says, he could have received the more severe penalty, which carries with it a fine of over $700.
It’s 1:05 a.m. and the streets of Isla Vista are still crowded, albeit more intoxicated than a few hours earlier. Sgt. Raney and his fellow officer are standing in the shadows along Del Playa Drive, waiting for something to catch their attention.
A young female, clearly intoxicated, stumbles by, holding on to a young man who doesn’t appear to be a good friend. Sgt. Raney stops the pair and asks to talk with the young lady.
Sgt. Raney asks if she knows her male counterpart, and she tells him that they met tonight. Her accent tells him that she is not a native to Isla Vista, and he asks her where she is staying. The young Swedish woman points back and says, “the house with the dolphins on it.”
Sgt. Raney believes she is too drunk to take care of herself and, for her own safety, does not want to leave her with her newly acquired friend. He asks her if she has any other friends with her and she shakes her head, but offers to call them.
The sheriff agrees, and she tries a few numbers without success, until finally reaching a friend. Sgt. Raney takes the phone from her, introduces himself and tells the young woman’s friend, “Come and get your friend, so she doesn’t go to jail.”
A few minutes later, a gaggle of girls shows up and leads the young Swede away.
“I was trying to protect an intoxicated woman strolling down the street with a random guy,” Raney says later. Had her friends not shown up, he says, he would have had to arrest her for public intoxication, which can have potentially serious ramifications and almost always includes a night in jail.
The moon is sinking beneath the western horizon and the streets are starting to finally clear out. It’s nearly two in the morning and the fervor from hours past is starting to wane.
Standing at the corner of DP and El Embarcadero, a number of the deputies congregate to discuss the night’s events, but none can help but notice when a highly intoxicated female stumbles out into the middle of street carrying her shoes in one hand and dropping her phone with the other.
Two officers immediately make their way toward her, and watch as she attempts to pick up her phone, only to drop one of her shoes. The officers walk up to her and tell her to stop, but she brushes them off and continues walking, saying, “I’m not drinking.”
One of the officers grabs her arm, and directs her to the curb. They ask her for her age and she tells them she’s 21. Her demeanor is combative, and she attempts to stand up, but is quickly reprimanded. She is asked her age again.
“Twenty-four,” is her new answer. The deputy tells her she just gave two separate answers and she says, “I’m 23.”
The officers stand her up and slap handcuffs on her. She continues to tell them that she’s not drunk, but her appeals fall on deaf ears. The deputies arrest her for being drunk in public.
(An easy way to avoid this fate is to always walk with someone and never give the police a reason to stop you. Stumbling down the street and repeatedly dropping your belongings are dead giveaways.)
Unfortunately, the young lady acted unwisely and has to pay the consequences. After a few moments, a patrol car picks her up and transports her to the Santa Barbara County Jail where she is housed, pending sobriety.