The Isla Vista Foot Patrol is now using undercover operations to enter local house parties and bust partygoers for minor alcohol crimes, and at least two sting operations took place at parties on Sabado Tarde this past weekend.
On Friday night, three officers walked into a party and issued multiple citations for minor in possession. The police officers were dressed as partygoers carrying an empty case of beer before they found underage individuals who were in illegal possession of alcohol. While the officers entered a private residence to issue the citations, IVFP Lt. Robert Plastino said they are legally allowed to do this if the party is open to the public, where “people from the street can come and go as they please.” Plastino also said the new operations are currently being conducted in adherence to terms outlined by a state grant given to IVFP by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, or ABC.
The undercover operations have been ongoing since fall when IVFP first received the grant from ABC, according to Plastino, who said the operations are expected to continue for the rest of the school year and into the next year.
Plastino said a party that is clearly open to the street is considered a ‘public venue’ to law enforcement, including undercover cops. He said students and local residents who host parties where underage partygoers are consuming alcohol should be cautious of opening up their party to the general public.
“If they won’t follow the law, then my other suggestion would be for them to stay inside, don’t host an open party, and invite only people they know,” Plastino said in an email. “Keeping their door closed is a pretty clear indication it’s a private party, and we will not ever knock on the door and pretend to be students to gain entry.”
Several UCSB students who live in the upstairs’ unit of 6615 Sabado Tarde, one of the houses targeted by undercover police agents last Friday night, said they doubted whether or not deputies acted within the boundaries of the law.
Bjorn, a third-year UCSB student who would not release his last name, said a group of about 15 to 20 of his close friends were celebrating his 21st birthday when they noticed “three strange-looking older men” walking up the stairs to their patio.
“We tried to figure out who they were. We were questioning each other, ‘Who are these people?’” Bjorn said. “People were about to talk to them and ask who they were, but before any of that, all of the sudden, they pulled out their badges and started to just single people out and ask for IDs.”
Bjorn’s roommate, Nick Fields, a UCSB third-year English major, said the men held up an empty 30-rack before walking up the stairs, even after no one gave them permission to enter.
“He just held up the 30-rack as if it was his invitation in,” Fields said. “No one said come up. They just walked in.”
Fields said a friend of his started to film the police when they revealed themselves and asked questions, such as whether or not the party was in violation of a noise ordinance.
“The cops got really mad and told him to put it away and then made him leave,” Fields said. “After the kid left, the cop turned to the other and said, ‘The kid had like 20,000 questions, what’s his deal?’”
Fields said police did not seem concerned with underage individuals consuming alcohol so much as they did about giving out tickets.
“They didn’t confiscate any alcohol — they could care less whether we were drinking underage or not,” Fields said. “They didn’t give us a lecture about why it is bad or why it is against the law. They basically acted like, ‘Carry on, keep drinking.’”
The ABC grant includes undercover operations called “party patrols,” but Plastino said the greater focus of the grant is to target local businesses such as liquor stores.
“We do not simply target residents. In fact, much of the grant operations center on heavy enforcement of the businesses that sell alcohol to minors, and to people that purchase for minors,” Plastino said in an email. “But, as you are now hearing, it also targets party hosts that serve alcohol to minors and to any minors in possession.”
Plastino said that residents should refrain from serving alcohol to minors and consider checking the identification of unknown party guests.
“I understand how it might be difficult to get residents to start IDing partygoers, but the fact is that you cannot just throw a party, open to the public, start pouring alcohol to minors, and have no repercussion for such action,” Plastino said in an email.
While he said IDing people entering private house parties would likely be “unpopular,” Plastino also said that not doing this could mean huge penalties for party hosts, such as the revoking of one’s driver’s license.
“They risk a pretty significant citation and other administrative penalties, which can include losing their driver’s license for a year,” Plastino said.
Photo courtesy of reddit user CEEJB.
The initial publication of this story incorrectly stated that Lt. Plastino said undercover police could enter parties so long as the “door is open,” but Plastino in fact meant only parties that are open to the street in which “people from the street can come and go as they please.” The article has been updated to reflect this error.
A version of this story appeared on page 3 of Monday, April 21, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.