About 20 students and coordinators spent their Saturday night meandering through Isla Vista with clipboards and orange “Legal Observer” pins, keeping an eye on the I.V. Foot Patrol (IVFP).
Students in this quarter’s Law & Society 4: Police and Community Rights class followed officers and recorded their actions as part of training to become certified legal observers through the Midnight Special Law Collective. The collective is a nonprofit organization that provides legal training to community members with the goal of creating better relations between the police and community residents.
Two UCSB students began the class last year under the title Law & Society 199 in response to allegations of police misconduct in I.V. Class members serve as witnesses to how police officers treat I.V. residents, including students, families and minority groups, said current class coordinator Sarika Sinha.
“We want to make sure residents are treated safely,” Sinha said.
Legal observers look and listen for such things as the language used by officers, any physical contact and general interaction with detainees, said class coordinator Chaz Whatley. Students write up formal reports of what they observe, including the officers’ activities, names and badge numbers.
Class coordinator Rami Hanna said the class serves the interests of I.V.’s residents.
“We want to prevent officers from … overstepping their bounds by having four people arrest one person, or asking hundreds of questions and calling the person drunk because they can’t answer everything,” Hanna said.
Besides observing officer behavior, Sinha said class coordinators speak with IVFP representatives, particularly Lt. Sol Linver, on a regular basis.
“They know what we’re up to and they want to take a roll in what we’re doing,” she said.
For Saturday night’s observation, the class met at Java Jones at 10:15 p.m. Coordinators distributed clipboards and orange “Legal Observer” badges made of construction paper and safety pins. From there, the class headed out to Del Playa Drive in three groups, each led by a class coordinator.
Between the groups, students witnessed one arrest and two citations.
At 10:50 p.m., one group noticed a man pulled over on the corner of Sabado Tarde Road and Camino del Sur. He was sitting on the curb as officers searched his car and his trunk.
The man said he was pulled over because police said the hip hop music playing in his car was too loud. Police found nothing in his car and he was not cited.
Soon afterward, legal observer Jeremy Way said the same officers began questioning a group of six girls on their way to a toga party. One girl had a can of soda that officers smelled to check for alcohol. The can was apparently free of alcohol and the officers sent the girls on their way.
Fifteen minutes later, the group saw four officers standing on the side of the street. The group approached them, introduced themselves and explained their objectives to the officers.
Deputies Williams, Wilson and Johnson asked the observers questions about their procedures and objectives. They encouraged Sinha to have an IVFP officer come speak to the class.
Farther down the street, the group witnessed a group of officers on bicycles in the driveway of 6654 Sabado Tarde Rd. When the group arrived, two officers were questioning a man in the driveway, while another officer kept the four girls who lived in the house at a distance. The same officer also told two legal observers to stand farther away.
Within five minutes, three more officers arrived at the scene. The man was cited for public urination.
At 11:30 p.m., all three groups met on the 6700 block of DP to share what they had witnessed in a debriefing session.
Hanna said his group saw police cite a man for possession of an open container of alcohol in public. The man had a 20-ounce soda bottle in his pocket, Hanna said, which police checked and found to contain alcohol.
Hanna said his group also saw a woman being arrested for public intoxication.
Midnight Special Law Collective representative Katie Maynard said her group witnessed a “protective arrest.” Maynard said the group saw a man and woman who appeared intoxicated. Officers arrested the woman, while the man was left alone. Maynard said she assumed the woman was arrested because officers thought she might be sexually assaulted if left alone with the man.
“The woman was taken from DP and put in the paddy-wagon and taken away,” she said. “We don’t know the charge.”
Maynard said she feels the arrest was sexist, and her group plans to report the incident.
During the debriefing session, Maynard instructed the group to only report what they saw, and not what any other group members told them. Although they did not witness as much activity as he would have liked, Hanna said the night was an overall success.
“Everyone [recognized] us and everyone said they were very happy that we were out there,” Hanna said.