Sixteen people recently got burned by undercover Isla Vista Foot Patrol officers for setting couches and other furniture pieces aflame — an offense with soon-to-increase punishments and fines.
IVFP Lt. Sol Linver said most couch, mattress and other furniture burnings occur during finals week of Spring Quarter. This spring, however, the IVFP began a more stringent crackdown on the traditional I.V. festivity, and will soon implement higher penalties for the crime.
Last year, the IVFP made one arrest for couch fires during finals week, but Linver said that this year, officers made 16 arrests. Linver said this year’s reported couch fires during the week increased to 33 from last year’s 31.
Officer Joe Cedillos said plainclothes officers have helped increase the number of arrests. These officers, who did not identify themselves or make arrests at the burnings, were able to identify people who started or added fuel to fires. They would point out the suspects to uniformed officers, who could then arrest them, Cedillos said.
“We walked around, and when we heard or saw that there was a fire or saw people throwing things into the street, we’d head there,” Cedillos said.
Cedillos said being out of uniform prevented students from being able to hide from officers.
“When you’re in plain clothes, they just figure you’re just one of the students,” Cedillos said. “People do things in front of you they wouldn’t do in front of uniformed officers. If there weren’t many people, we might just arrest them ourselves, but if there were a lot of them we would wait for uniformed officers because of officer safety.”
In addition to plainclothes officers, Linver said other preventative measures include imposing fines and charging fees for the various costs of a fire.
Linver said couch and other such burnings carry either a $1,000 fine, six months to a year in jail, or both. Violators will also soon be forced to pay for the cost of repairing the marred road under a fire and any property damage, as well as the cost of bringing out the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept., which is frequently called into I.V. to put out the flames.
Fourth-year business economics major Jonathan Watson said couch fires are not a problem as long as students act responsibly.
“It’s harmless fun, but [students] should have to clean it up,” Watson said. “You get to show up … and light a fire. No one ever gets hurt. You’d have to be pretty stupid if you’re jumping over it or something.”
In the past, however, Linver said couch fires have spread to trees and nearby parked cars, or have been set in dumpsters where they damage nearby buildings.
“There are many severe problems associated with couch burnings,” Linver said. “It’s a road hazard. Even before a couch is burned, it sits in the street. A car could come around the corner and hit it.”
Other problems include environmental and safety concerns, Linver said.
Sean Rogan, a fifth-year film studies and sociology double major, said couch fires are not usually a hazard as long as people use caution and common sense.
“It’s a waste of a couch, but some couches deserve to be destroyed,” Rogan said. “I don’t think they’ll cause problems — they can though. I’ve seen them catch someone’s house on fire, but it’s the end of the year, and people are getting rid of things.”
To minimize the occurrence of couch fires during finals week, Linver said IVFP checks I.V. three ways per day.
First, MarBorg Industries — a company that provides trash collection services to I.V. — collects trash and picks up discarded couches, mattresses and other furniture. Later in the day, IVFP officers look for fires that have been put out in the street, pick up anything that could be lit on fire and give it to MarBorg Industries. At night, plainclothes officers look for fires and make arrests.
Linver said couch burnings are an unnecessary means of celebration.
“It’s something we really don’t want to have and don’t need to have in the community,” Linver said. “There are other ways to celebrate graduation.”