Three members of the UC Santa Barbara Department of Economics drafted a report on the campus police department in September 2020, criticizing the department’s lack of transparency — in particular regarding its $10 million budget — and calling for greater public access to basic department information.
The report was authored by three department members as part of a diversity initiative following the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, and later circulated internally among UCSB faculty in the social sciences division.
The report’s authors –– Youssef Benzarti, an assistant professor, and Jacob Gellman and Sarah Robinson, both doctoral students –– brought an economic approach to their evaluation of the UC Santa Barbara Police Department (UCPD): “What’s the cost of the police and what’s the benefit of the police?” Benzarti said to the Nexus.
One of their biggest findings was that the UCPD, though part of a major public university system, did not make information publicly available on how officers spend their time on the job and how its $10 million budget is being used.
“When we started this project, we were like, ‘Oh, we’re going to know everything,” Benzarti said. “We’re going to be able to get every piece of information that we know about the UCPD, the UCSB police department.’ But, in fact, we were not able to get any of that.”
The university has yet to make a public announcement to the campus community regarding the allegations.
The report also found that in a span of just over 10 years, the UCPD’s budget increased by 183%, while the student undergraduate population increased by about 19% in that same time span.
Andrea Estrada, spokesperson for the university, said in an email that the increases in the budget came after calls from the community for heightened safety measures in Isla Vista.
“Following two separate violent incidents that took place in Isla Vista in the spring of 2014, students, faculty, staff, parents and members of the greater community called for enhanced safety measures in Isla Vista,” Estrada said.
Estrada later clarified that the two violent events she referred to were the 2014 Isla Vista tragedy and the 2014 Deltopia weekend that ended in riots.
The report calls for greater transparency on how the UCPD spends its time and money, citing complaints against the department, regulations regarding officers’ use of force and the activities of the UCSB Policy Advisory Board (PAB). The board was formed in 2019 after the UC Presidential Task Force on Universitywide Policing recommended the creation of an independent police advisory board with campus representatives.
In a December 2019 announcement, Chancellor Henry T. Yang said that the board –– made up of UCSB faculty and students –– would provide an annual report of its activities. That has yet to happen.
“The broader campus community is owed transparency and engagement. The UCSB community would benefit from regular updates on the specific activities, goals, powers, and access to information of the PAB,” the researchers argued in their report.
The PAB’s failure to produce a public report was due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, Estrada said.
In 2021, the PAB has plans for three main projects: town halls on policing and community grievances; regular closed meetings between the PAB and community members to air complaints; and a web portal where individuals can anonymously report incidents or concerns about the UCPD.
Specific dates for these projects are yet to be determined, Estrada said.
The report questioned whether the PAB would have the necessary power and access to information to make actionable improvements within the UCPD or “whether its establishment is purely symbolic.” The researchers argue the PAB should be involved in investigating complaints against the department’s budget oversight process, but were not able to determine if this was the case.
“Given the dearth of information, it is reasonable to wonder about the current state of the police department and of the PAB,” the report said. “UC students, faculty, and administrators must consider seriously whether the existence of campus-specific police is actually necessary, and whether its cost is justified.”