As I watched the brigade of mounted officers parading around Isla Vista this past week in preparation of Halloween, I could only think of one thing, and it didn’t have anything to do with public safety or projection of force. All I could think about was what an incredible waste of money it is to trot these guys around for a week straight. I am all for public safety and would never want Halloween to turn into a crazy, gang-fuelled riot or bank-burning festival, but I just don’t see the value in having these horse cops around. The truth is, nobody’s going to be rising up en masse against the police force when the streets are full of hot nurses and Spartans. Everybody’s mind is on sex, not revolution.
A 2009 Santa Barbara County grand jury investigation revealed that, in 2008, the Halloween celebration in Isla Vista cost the county an estimated $700,000. Of that amount, $432,000 went to law enforcement. While I understand the need to have a few more cops around due to the explosion in Isla Vista’s population during Halloween weekend, half a million dollars sounds a little exuberant. Spending public money on search-and-rescue crews to provide medical help for kids with toxic levels of Heritage vodka in their systems is understandable and necessary. Horse cops? Not so much.
Not only does the increased police presence on Halloween represent a significant sum of cash, the increased number of arrests and citations made on Halloween also costs the county a pretty penny. According to the Santa Barbara Independent, in 2008 there were approximately 700 arrests and 400 citations, and each one cost the county $1,000 on average. Do the math, and that’s a ton of money being spent on arrests and the vast majority of those arrests are for the improper use of alcohol, not serious crimes.
In recent years, Santa Barbara County has stepped up its efforts to try to control Halloween and limit it to a local celebration by increasing police presence and by decreasing its allure to out-of-towners by making it less fun. They have been somewhat successful; recent Halloweens have been a little less crazy, a lot less fun and there have been fewer out-of-towners. However, this success has come at a cost to the actual residents of Isla Vista, who should have the right to have a party past six o’clock on Halloween, goddamn it! Despite this, Halloween in Isla Vista is still crazy and is always going to be. Trying to prohibit the celebration with a draconian six o’clock “festival” ordinance (you would think a “festival” ordinance would be later, not earlier than a regular noise ordinance) infringes on our rights. Believe it or not, we absolutely have a “right to party.” Trying to prohibit Halloween in Isla Vista is like trying to successfully prohibit drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana; you can’t.
There is also a potentially huge economic benefit from a large Halloween celebration and the large presence of out-of-towners that the county seems to ignore. I am sure that every single restaurant in Isla Vista sees huge profits during the Halloween weekend, which could translate into increased tax revenue for the county. The county should be licking its chops every year at the potential economic boom Halloween can provide instead of blowing all its money on useless horse cops and extra police to try and kill it.
When I was studying abroad in Spain last year, I got to go to some pretty amazing festivals, and one of the coolest was Carnival in Cadiz. In a lot of ways, it is pretty similar to Halloween in Isla Vista except on a larger scale, with a relatively smaller police presence and with music and concerts blaring into the early morning and, oh yeah, it goes on for two weeks straight! However, Carnival is encouraged, not discouraged, by the city for its huge economic and cultural value. While I would never want Isla Vista’s Halloween festival to last more than a few days (Spaniards ARE pretty damn crazy), I think that Santa Barbara County should recognize the value the festival could have, not only for the residents of Isla Vista, but also for the county as a whole.
Daily Nexus columnist Riley Schenck would sure as hell fight for our right to party.