Following the murder of George Floyd, the Isla Vista Community Services District began initiating discussions surrounding racial equity in the UC Santa Barbara college town. One such discussion revolved around community-based policing programs like the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program, which is employed in other college towns, including San Luis Obispo and D.C.
According to I.V. Community Services District (IVCSD) President and Director Spencer Brandt, the conversation about community-based methods of policing in I.V. had been an ongoing discussion prior to the murder of Floyd, but his murder “push[ed] this conversation to the front and center” for the IVCSD.
Current nonviolent responses in I.V. include Community Service Organization’s Isla Vista Safety Station program on Friday and Saturday nights, Santa Barbara County’s Crisis and Recovery Emergency Services program for mental health emergencies and the I.V. Foot Patrol (IVFP) party registration — a way to register large gatherings and parties with the local sheriff’s department.
“[Community-based policing] has been a conversation that we have had over a number of years. I know when we originally instituted the [Community Service Organization] safety station program,” Brandt said. “And so I really see this last year as bringing these things front and center, and I think really forcing some difficult conversations about the nature of policing in Isla Vista in general.”
While having this conversation, IVCSD requested policing data from IVFP, and the IVCSD evaluated trends in local crimes — which include arrests, citations and no charges filed — while considering local policing alternatives during their meeting on April 27.
IVFP provided crime data from 2013 and from 2018 to 2020, which revealed many trends, including the following: A majority of crimes committed in I.V. are nonviolent, and Black people make up approximately 3% of the population but around 6% of crimes.
According to IVCSD Director Ethan Bertrand, examining the college town during the weekend provides a glimpse into why policing in I.V. is so problematic.
“Just looking around Isla Vista on a Friday or Saturday night, you can see what is wrong, you see, many young people being stopped while walking through the community of suspicion of committing some sort of low level offense, and sometimes the person has done nothing wrong, and it’s a negative interaction that was unnecessary,” Bertrand said in an interview with the Nexus.
Of the top 10 crime categories, the Nexus only classifies 6.3% of the crimes as violent within the graphs and charts below. These violent crimes include resisting arrest, fighting — which includes battery and fighting in public — robberies/burglaries/theft and abuse.
The majority of crimes can be classified as related to alcohol, partying or disorderly conduct. The alcohol category includes charges such as minor in possession, possession of an open container and being drunk in public. The partying category includes loud noise/music and festival ordinance violations. Disorderly conduct includes urinating in public, public nuisance and disturbing someone else in public.
Alcohol-related offenses make up the majority of crimes, and this is consistent across all age groups. Ages below 25 are responsible for most of the partying and disorderly conduct charges. 21-year-olds commit more crimes than any other age group, with 84% of the crimes being committed by 18- to 23-year-olds.
When presenting the data to the board of directors, IVCSD General Manager Jonathan Abboud highlighted that despite making up only 3% of the population, Black people constitute 6% of both charged and uncharged crimes.
According to Brandt, there were a few trends that stuck out to the IVCSD from the data provided by I.V. Community Resource Deputy Justin Schroeder: the vast amount of time and resources spent on minor crimes and certain racial components to policing in I.V.
“There’s a significant amount of time and resources that are spent by law enforcement on very minor crimes. And we see that in the data that those types of crimes and the rest and citation for those types of things on Friday and Saturday nights,” Brandt said.
“And these are things like [being] drunk in public, minor possession of alcohol, open containers and the two different types of noise ordinances. Having seen that and also, having just lived here for five years and seeing how it actually plays out on a Friday and Saturday night — you know that. I think that it would be wrong not to see that there’s a better way of doing things.”
Brandt told the Nexus that the biases that exist in policing — which became a national conversation following the murder of George Floyd — are a call to action for more community-based policing programs.
“If you’re Black and living in Isla Vista, you’re more likely to be cited or arrested for these types of crimes than if you’re white. And I think there’s a really important racial justice component of alternative response as well,” Brandt said.
“So, I think that because of the Black Lives Matter movement, this is something that the public has a broad awareness of and I think is really demanding of us to continue, because we just can’t do business as usual anymore,” he continued.
Bertrand shared his own experience with police in I.V., when he was stopped by law enforcement while drinking kombucha and walking down Del Playa Drive. The experience highlighted the time and resources law enforcement spends on potential minor crimes and how some minorities experience policing in I.V.
“It was pretty quiet out, and I was walking down Del Playa, listening to a podcast on police reform of all things (it’ll be ironic in a minute). I was listening to this podcast, just going on a walk, just relaxing, and I was drinking kombucha,” Bertrand said. “And a police vehicle drives by me, then it turns around and drives by me again. And then it turns around one more time and drives and pulls me over while I’m walking.”
The police officers circled Bertrand, pulled him over, asked to inspect his drink without having any reason to believe he was carrying an open container, then let him go.
“While on the surface level, it’s kind of funny that I was pulled over for drinking tea, it’s really not. While I can make light of that, it’s like really not, because it was very intimidating. It was so scary to be circled multiple times,” Bertrand continued.
“It was clear something was wrong, and it was at night, I was alone, and I just kind of felt powerless and threatened in that moment, because I didn’t know why they were stopping me. It turned out they were stopping me for something very trivial. And something that is something that couldn’t be more legal, as far as drinking a soft drink while walking in your own neighborhood.”
In order to create a system of policing that addresses racial biases and fits the needs of a college town like I.V., the IVCSD decided to explore the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program (S.N.A.P.). S.N.A.P. is a student and community-based form of responding to minor violations as a first response.
S.N.A.P. is currently employed in the college towns of both California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and Georgetown University. Christine Wallace, the San Luis Obispo Police Department neighborhood outreach manager, spoke to IVCSD during their June 8 meeting and presented the operations of her San Luis Obispo program, which centers education about noise ordinance laws as a first response before involving police for tickets or citations.
Wallace described the S.N.A.P. program as “a peer-to-peer model … [that] address[es] civility and livability issues in the neighborhoods off campus.”
Student civilian employees visit residences with complaints against them and offer education about local laws and ordinances that prohibit their behavior or — in the case that a residence’s behavior is reported but not unlawful — a S.N.A.P. employee will visit the residence and let them know.
“Our program is set up … to where it’s really education first. I do a ton of outreach — not during COVID, a ton of outreach in regular life — to incoming students, to Greek life, to clubs, to organizations, student government,” Wallace said in an interview with the Nexus. “I’m trying to be on campus and in front of people as much as possible, to give them the education information about what the city of San Luis Obispo municipal codes are.”
Wallace said that a majority of interactions that S.N.A.P. employees have are actually positive.
“Generally speaking, most interactions that S.N.A.P. [has] — with student residents especially — are polite and professional,” she said. “It’s very few times when we have someone that’s over intoxicated that wasn’t in their mind, and [we have] a terrible interaction.”
However, Wallace said that S.N.A.P. employees contact the San Luis Obispo Police Department if the interaction doesn’t go smoothly.
“If the residents that they speak to are aggressive, uncooperative, all of those kinds of commerce things that could happen on the negative side, then our S.N.A.P. team requests assistance from the patrol folk. Pretty rare that that happens,” Wallace said to the Nexus.
Wallace added that one struggle her program faces is being taken seriously while visiting residences.
“To use a very derogatory term, a lot of our student residents call [our] staff, Student Nazis Against Parties. That drives me absolutely insane. I can’t change the narrative so I don’t try,” she said. “I just try to give as much education as I can about what their role is. They’re paid civilian employees. They don’t patrol, they respond to complaints that are received by dispatch, and they’re just like y’all.”
Another struggle Wallace cited was the general traction behind defunding the police. Though S.N.A.P. falls in line with the goals of defunding the police — by funnelling money into community-based programs — Wallace said that even association with law enforcement made recruitment for S.N.A.P. fairly difficult. Wallace added that the conversation surrounding racism within police departments is necessary.
“In general, across the state, recruitment for jobs associated with law enforcement have greatly declined, and that includes civilian positions. So, because the profession of law enforcement is under a great deal of scrutiny — as it should be — there have been communities across our nation that have shown to have really challenged, poorly run, racist, law enforcement agencies,” Wallace said.
“It’s our responsibility as folks who are still in the profession, [who] want to make it just, make it antiracist, make it helpful, make it professional, to recruit and find and train the people that are going to shift to provide good policing and law enforcement for our communities,” she continued. “We have a ways to get there though, and it’s going to simply take so much more intentional thought and process to help us find those people that are going to be essentially the change makers for the profession.”
When asked about the possible ridicule of student employees in the S.N.A.P. program, Brandt said he’s heard similar language used against current law enforcement in I.V., and that the desired outcome of a program like S.N.A.P. outweighs the negative effects of any ridicule.
“I think that that is just something that comes part and parcel with the fact that we’ve got a community of young people, and they want to have a social life, and they want to have fun,” she said.
“I think that the right question, or the question that I always think of, is: What’s gonna get us closer to the outcome that we want? And is it better if you’ve got a student who’s there and can potentially level with the person that they’re responding to and achieve the desired outcome without the justice system being involved? Or is it better if it’s just the law enforcement officer?” Brandt continued.
Currently, IVCSD is looking to engage with student and community organizations in order to understand what the community needs from local policing. In addition, the IVCSD is looking to expand their current efforts, such as safety stations, to more locations. This ongoing effort is still in the process of development. The Nexus will continue to report on this developing story.